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View Full Version : New to bbq catering, any helpful advice for starting out?


chefdad
11-23-2012, 03:14 PM
I have prepared pulled pork for several family parties and fundraisers at church. Family and friends have encouraged me to start a catering business. I do not want to go over board, start small and see where it goes. However, that plan can change.
Any advice or things to stay away from, would be helpful. I have been cooking on a 22.5 WSM, and thinking of buying another smoker.

Is there any certification or license I may need? I live in Ohio.
Pricing? What do you charge per pound. I have read on the forum, $8-10 for a pound of cook pulled pork. Is this the same for chicken and brisket?

I know I have a lot to learn and you are the best. Thanks for your time and advice!

Bbq Bubba
11-23-2012, 06:44 PM
Why does everyone who can cook a butt want to get into catering?

Cook for your friends and family for a couple of years and then if you still want to be a caterer (doubtful) you will have a good idea of what needs to be done.

Not rude, just honest brother. ;)

gtr
11-23-2012, 06:47 PM
If I were you I'd spend a good deal of time reading threads on this catering forum - very valuable info here, some of which may or may not lead you to change your mind - depends on how bad you want to get into it.

82's BBQ
11-23-2012, 07:00 PM
Contact your local health dept. They will get you started in the right direction as far as any licenses that you might need.
In regards to pricing, the general rule of thumb is 3 times your costs. In other words if it costs you $1.50 to produce a pulled pork sandwich then you turn around and sell it for $4.50. You can adjust your prices from there. Equipment is going to be a thorn in your side during the beginning. You will be amazed at all of the little things that you need, but don't have.
I'm sure it is a requirement in OH, shop around for insurance quotes. I would think to expect around $500-700/yr easily.

big brother smoke
11-23-2012, 07:19 PM
Why does everyone who can cook a butt want to get into catering?

Cook for your friends and family for a couple of years and then if you still want to be a caterer (doubtful) you will have a good idea of what needs to be done.

Not rude, just honest brother. ;)

We were, where he is, lol! :tongue:

Bubba's context is right though, there is a lot more involved than we all think at the beginning stages. I bet approximately 1 in 50 who start in the business, actually stick it out due to harder work than anticipated, lack of customers and resources, etc.

chefdad
11-23-2012, 09:34 PM
No problem Bubba! I need a glimpse of reality. Several friends and family members have suggested it. So, I am only looking into it. I knew before I posted the thread, that I would receive a honest reply back.

I have been cooking for friends and family for a while. Not only pulled pork. I can cook chicken ribs and working on brisket. I also, have a pretty good rub and sauce. So, I am just looking into it and see if it would be worth while. Thanks for your honesty and advice.

Big Ace
11-23-2012, 09:50 PM
I have prepared pulled pork for several family parties and fundraisers at church. Family and friends have encouraged me to start a catering business.

One thing I learned, is that, EVERYBODY loves your food when its free or at cost. Ask them to pay full pop(around here $13pp for a catering gig) and then see what they say. Hope that helps.

kadQ
11-24-2012, 07:28 AM
Big ace has a point, I started at the beginning of this year with my first smoker (backwoods) and a few people trying it, Then I catered a friends of mine daughters graduation party, Then it grew to a few parties. I just charged cost plus 20% and already have a few dates tentatively book for next year but depends on the price I charge. a few folks already have qoutes from a couple of bbq cater's that is my biggest hurddle to overcome I don't know how to get my cost down knowing my q blows the others out of the water "so I've been told". My way of thinking is if mine is so much better then the others the cost's aught to reflect that. I know folks will shop around and the cheaper product most always win.

I've never considered catering just seeing what happens. Love the Q!!!!!!

HBMTN
11-24-2012, 08:33 AM
Work your way to it. Pull some temporary permits and vend some festivals and see how you like the log hours and consider it will be that way most every weekend catering. If you still want it then go for it. You can talk to the health dept when you pull temp festival permits about what is needed to cater.

PorkQPine
11-24-2012, 10:03 AM
Most businessess fail because they don't know business or marketing. If you have a junior college near you check to see if they have hospitality classes. In my area we have great classes in catering, cost of goods etc. to become a qualified chef. Take a Serv-Safe course, contact Health Dept and look around for good used equipment. One or two WSM's won't work because you can't cook enough to make a profit. Check out licenses in your county, check out commercial commissary/kitchens and insurance. If you're in for an ounce your are in for a pound. Once you charge the game changes, it will take you a few years to break even if ever.

chefdad
11-24-2012, 01:51 PM
Thanks a lot for the advice. I will look further into it and we will see what happens.

cynfulsmokersbbq
11-27-2012, 12:27 PM
Why does everyone who can cook a butt want to get into catering?

Cook for your friends and family for a couple of years and then if you still want to be a caterer (doubtful) you will have a good idea of what needs to be done.

Not rude, just honest brother. ;)


I have been catering and vending for three years now, and it is the most fun I have ever had in my life. (and I've had some pretty serious fun!:mrgreen:)

I wouldn't trade it or leave it for anything, and I'd almost do it for free. (not really, but just making the point of how much I love what i do)

BUT: I did just what Bubba said for about three or four years before I got into it. I also had a mentor that I owe all my success to, and to this day I can text him anytime and he will get back to me within minutes.
Also my first gig, was a vending event, I served 700 people and thought I was on top of the world. I spent the profits on another smoker. :doh: (my wife wasn't happy) IT was the only event I did that year. I wanted to let it soak in, and master what I had learned both success and mistakes. The next year I did probably 12 events, this past year I am up to 30 events. I am happy, it grows slowly and that is how I want it to grow. I want a masterpiece before I throw the doors open.

Bigmista
11-27-2012, 12:40 PM
Invest in a very comfortable pair of shoes because you will be on your feet for long hours. No more of that put some meat on and have a beer. There is no time for that once you do it as a business. There is always something to do. And find someone to do the business side for you. Paperwork, marketing, taxes, insurance, permits...all of that can steal your joy if you don't have someone to handle it for you.

cynfulsmokersbbq
11-28-2012, 09:57 AM
Invest in a very comfortable pair of shoes because you will be on your feet for long hours. No more of that put some meat on and have a beer. There is no time for that once you do it as a business. There is always something to do. And find someone to do the business side for you. Paperwork, marketing, taxes, insurance, permits...all of that can steal your joy if you don't have someone to handle it for you.


I agree with you, good shoes are a must.

I was never a put it on and go have a beer guy anyway. I was always a put it on, and then go do some research about what else I can cook.

Whether it is cooking the meat, or getting the beans or slaw ready, I love it all. It is more about being around the atmosphere than just being around the pit. I don't love all the business side, but because it is my business I do enjoy it. With marketing, and paperwork and all also comes all the compliments. It is a hell of a compliment to us when we get asked to vend an occasion that may be six hours away just because they have had a few request from people that have eaten our BBQ before. That is the business side that is rewarding.

chad
11-28-2012, 12:42 PM
"catering" with a WSM is more like "personal chef'ing". To paraphrased "Jaws": You're gonna need a bigger boat (cooker).
I don't cater now but when I did I used the heck out of my Kingfisher stickburner to turn out port for 200-400 and ribs, brisket, chicken, etc. for Superbowl parties, smaller church functions, business holiday parties, birthday parties, etc. I can't imagine trying to go bit without the proper equipment.
Also, simple things like tongs, aprons, chafing pans/stands, gallons of rub and sauce, TIME (never enough), dealing with weather and customer personalities...it's indeed a job. As was said earlier: check out how many friends and family will pay what your work is worth - and always, always, always, get enough deposit to pay for any up front costs before you start. Cash the check at the customer's bank - do not deposit to your account and then find out it bounced! It'll ruin your day and credit rating.
Good luck! It's fun but REAL HARD WORK! :mrgreen:

MattG
11-28-2012, 09:18 PM
Spend a good two days speaking with your local HD and find out about Insurance. { is a MUST!!! } Then if that doesn't stop you look for a HD approved kitchen and find out what thats going to run you. Think of what you need to cook on and find out what thats going to run. Then .......

Cloudsmoker
11-28-2012, 09:42 PM
Speaking from the other side, Bubba speaks a lot of sense. Been doing some decent size cooks for churches, the office and friends - and it's always a lot more than I think it should be. Whole 'nother level going pro.

BigBellyBBQ
12-01-2012, 02:29 AM
Invest in a very comfortable pair of shoes because you will be on your feet for long hours. No more of that put some meat on and have a beer. There is no time for that once you do it as a business. There is always something to do. And find someone to do the business side for you. Paperwork, marketing, taxes, insurance, permits...all of that can steal your joy if you don't have someone to handle it for you.
This really says alot..The paperwork really takes the fun out of it..I use Quickbooks however you still have to keep it entered...stay ahead on your advertising and invest in two or three pairs of good shoes..load your cooker up at midnight then you have to be there at 8 am..or before..get someone to train on your methods so they can be there either to open or to close...a good crew to clean and close was the key for me...makes my next day meat prep easier...try to plan your big cooks (20 or thirty pork butts or briskets) on one night and have an extra person that morning to pull them and chill them...hold ina cooler while waiting to pull..this will get you through a coupledays when you dont want to cook nightly..

Jeff Therrell
12-02-2012, 10:11 PM
I just started my BBQ trailer business 3 weeks ago and my day starts at 6 am and I get home at 9 pm. But I'm not complaining, I love it. Everybody said running a restaurant was the hardest work you will ever do, well they never ran a body shop or a fiberglass manufacturing business.....LOL

Thanks, Jeff Therrell
Sweetfire BBQ

gooose53
12-10-2012, 12:36 PM
I'm amazed at how many people always want us to start a business. I'm asked that all the time and usually ask how many times a week will you come and spend your money.

215Smokehouse
12-10-2012, 09:16 PM
I too am just getting started in the Catering business. My Father-In-Law has been in the business for 42 years so I have a good source of info already.

I can tell you this...the start up costs to do things "right" are quite high. Cookers to Cambro...the stuff is expensive.

Best of luck to everyone. I really look forward to learning many things here.

SouthernMagicBBQ
12-12-2012, 12:23 PM
My family owned a Barbecue cafe for several years. Old fashioned direct heat brick pits. I still prefer direct, but I'm old school. I love cooking for family get togethers and church functions. I have cooked for friends so their "pro cooks" won't ruin the butts or shoulders. It is hard, expensive, nerve wracking work. When ever a friend or relative suggests me going back into the business, I usually tell them, 'sure, great idea. If you like my food that well how about investing in it with me. Amazing how fast it closes their mouths. lol Do talk to some others in the business and make sure you are ready for the commitment. It ain't a bed of roses but can be lots of fun.

brownclark
12-12-2012, 11:04 PM
My family also had barbecue for many years. We used to serve foods to many schools and play groups. We love cooking and we also cook food on weekends with family by having small get together with friends. We like our business and always ready to give our best. Cooking food is always fun and to have food. I always want people to make food with me and share their own ideas and recipes , so I can prepare more delicious.
catering ocala is best (http://zuni.com/state/florida/marion/ocala/food-and-dining/catering)

themidniteryder
01-05-2013, 10:44 PM
As a business owner who started 3 years ago (not Q' related) I can tell you there is a lot more to it than you realize. I am in the small engine repair biz and my day starts at 6 am, in the shop at 7. Open the doors at 8. Close the doors at 6 pm. Then paperwork and admin stuff till 9pm at the earliest. 7 days a week. If you are going to be successful, for the first 5 years you better be wiling to dedicate 24/7 to your business, and have a backup income.

Sure, all my friends talk about how great my Q' is, how I should start a food business. I do cook a few parties a year for friends who cover the cost. I have a Carolina style mustard sauce for pulled pork that is like nothing anyone on the west coast has seen. Everyone tells me I should bottle and sell it. Last night the wife and I sat down and looked at the costs. The hard cost. By the time we buy the ingredients, bottles, labels, shipping or gas to go get the stuff, utility cost for cooking it up, insurance and permits to do it legit, time for bookkeeping, we would have to sell it for $5 for a 16 oz bottle to make 50 cents on each sale. That doesnt include marketing and advertizing, delivering or shipping to the stores, the gas wear and tear on the vehicle delivering it, our time for the whole process and who knows what else. No one here is going to pay $5 for a bottle of mustard sauce when they can buy the same size bottle of plain mustard for $1.19.

Not trying to discourage you, but with a business, legit or not, there are hard costs most people never even think about. And with foodservice you better be legit!!!