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Catering, Vending and Cooking For The Masses. this forum is OnTopic. A resource to help with catering, vending and just cooking for large parties. Topics to include Getting Started, Ethics, Marketing, Catering resources, Formulas and recipes for cooking for large groups.


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Old 11-01-2018, 06:04 PM   #16
Q_Done_Right
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Originally Posted by RuBBQCo View Post
Beginning roughly 3 years ago, our initial interest/hobby was competing (6-7 contests a year). We knew that there was the possibility that it could eventually evolve into more, so when we designed and built the trailer for competing, I did so while working hand and hand with the health department so that the trailer would fully pass inspection if/when the time came that we wanted to start a business out of it. We've been running the trailer on a part time basis now for roughly 4 months.

The plan was to primarily do catering gigs, which have proven lucrative. However, to supplement some costs between catering gigs, we started opening up every other Sunday from 11am-2pm or until sold out. This has become more regular than catering because the margins are good and we can open pretty much whenever we want to. We've also sold out within a couple of hours each time we open, not because of lack of food cooked (we have increasingly cooked more each time and are now at capacity), but because we developed a strong following via social media and word of mouth. Keep in mind that my overhead is low as it is only my wife and I running the trailer. We both also work full time jobs, so this is truly a side gig for us at this point.

Could I see it going full time at some point in the future? Yeah, possibly. But I also do not know what the demand would be if I was open 3-4 days a week as opposed to only 2 times per month between catering gigs. Take all of this for what its worth, but I will say that there are few better feelings than being able to turn a profit while doing what you love to do.
Thank you for sharing this as this is the ideal way I would like to break into the scene (very gradually until I know itís worthwhile for me to scale). Good luck on your future endeavors.
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Old 11-01-2018, 06:06 PM   #17
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I know BBQ owners that are very successful financially, some doing OK, and I know one in particular that is on the verge of shutting down. All are in the same area, within 15 miles of each other in a huge metro area. All have absolutely top of the line BBQ. The smaller outfits seem to be debt free with low overhead, I guess it just comes down to how much business you can attract.
Iím assuming this is all in the Houston area?
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Old 11-02-2018, 11:01 AM   #18
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Right now this is just a side gig as I also work a 9-5 job, well actually 4 10hr days a week. It might be more soon though as I went from selling about 4 briskets and like 6 pork shoulders a weekend to now selling out of 12 briskets and like 16 pork shoulders worth of meat in just a few hours each weekend day. This all happened within 1 year basically. BBQ is perfect to use social media for too, just seeing a good picture of BBQ makes almost anyone hungry.
Just curious, and you can send in a PM if you want, but what permits have you had to acquire to do this? My brother and I are in the same boat and want to potentially do something similar. We both have good 9-5s and aren't ready to leave that with young children, wives, and mortgages. But, I'm thinking if we can get a yearly permit to setup somewhere from the town we could just use our social media presence to market us locally and sell out of some food every/every other weekend. Would be riskier than just picking up catering jobs locally, but I can see it being easier.
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Old 11-03-2018, 12:36 AM   #19
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Just my .02 here, but have you considered a smaller place? Here in Louisiana Cajun and Seafood is king. But here in North LA. Good BBQ is at a real premium. I know of 1 here and you won't find it on any top 10 list. Sure there are some chains here like Dickey's etc. but I can make better BBQ (disclaimer, can't cook for masses). There are about 1/4 million here in our area. Mississippi down the I-20 corridor like Vicksburg etc is also in need of good BBQ. Wishing you Good Luck in your endeavors.
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Old 11-03-2018, 02:12 PM   #20
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Im in the food distribution business so my food cost are far less than most....I turn really good profits because of my COG,s and no/very low overhead......most people in the biz either love it or hate it...

and the only $ I spend is on social media....maybe 100 bucks a month

PS I made a million in the BBQ biz, I just started out with 2 million....
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Old 11-05-2018, 07:43 AM   #21
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Just curious, and you can send in a PM if you want, but what permits have you had to acquire to do this? My brother and I are in the same boat and want to potentially do something similar. We both have good 9-5s and aren't ready to leave that with young children, wives, and mortgages. But, I'm thinking if we can get a yearly permit to setup somewhere from the town we could just use our social media presence to market us locally and sell out of some food every/every other weekend. Would be riskier than just picking up catering jobs locally, but I can see it being easier.

I'm not sure what permits I would normally need since I bought a little corner lot on a semi busy street. It was only a few grand but since I own it I only need to be inspected by the health department 1x a year. I do know that I can also get away with being near other restaurants because I don't have a food truck, I just tow my smoker and set up a tent and tables so they classify me as just a caterer so I don't have to follow some ordinance that food trucks do regarding distance from other food establishments.
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Old 11-05-2018, 11:06 AM   #22
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Our margins are pretty tight but a lot of that stems from our commitment to making everything from scratch. Our mac & cheese has heavy cream, bacon and three different smoked cheeses, but we have to keep our prices down because the small town we live in just won't buy it if they deem it too expensive, no matter how good it is. We make enough for the business to sustain itself and cover most of our living expenses, but I still have to work a part-time job to make up for the shortfalls. I think within the next 1-2 years we should reach a point where we're turning a real profit. The catering side is starting to take off and our average daily gross receipts are increasing slowly but steadily.
If we would have been on more stable financial footing when we started and actually had an idea of what we were doing, we'd be better off. But if we waited for all that to happen we never would have taken the leap.
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Old 11-06-2018, 08:15 AM   #23
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Iím assuming this is all in the Houston area?
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:06 PM   #24
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Our margins are pretty tight but a lot of that stems from our commitment to making everything from scratch. Our mac & cheese has heavy cream, bacon and three different smoked cheeses, but we have to keep our prices down because the small town we live in just won't buy it if they deem it too expensive, no matter how good it is. We make enough for the business to sustain itself and cover most of our living expenses, but I still have to work a part-time job to make up for the shortfalls. I think within the next 1-2 years we should reach a point where we're turning a real profit. The catering side is starting to take off and our average daily gross receipts are increasing slowly but steadily.
If we would have been on more stable financial footing when we started and actually had an idea of what we were doing, we'd be better off. But if we waited for all that to happen we never would have taken the leap.
Good (helpful) info. I appreciate it. Hope the winter here isnít too tough on you.
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Old 11-07-2018, 02:44 PM   #25
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One thing I will offer as "something to think about" that doesn't show up on a financial statement or in a bank account that was mentioned above, is time. I've a few friends who are in the food industry (both food truck business and brick and mortar) and one thing I can tell you that is true about both of their situations. They are married to their businesses. It consumes every facet of their life. They have almost no time for even a normal weekend off, their "days off" are spent doing something with the business that needs to get done but they don't have time to do it on the days they are open. Both have considered hiring more staff so they can have more time to "get away". But the problem is, it would take them increasing their sales significantly in order to still net what they are netting now by doing it themselves. From what I gather it is definitely a labor of love and can quickly go from something you enjoy to something that is nothing more than a seven day per week low paying job.

Sometimes a hobby is best kept a hobby to ensure you're still having fun.
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Old 11-07-2018, 04:14 PM   #26
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One thing I will offer as "something to think about" that doesn't show up on a financial statement or in a bank account that was mentioned above, is time. I've a few friends who are in the food industry (both food truck business and brick and mortar) and one thing I can tell you that is true about both of their situations. They are married to their businesses. It consumes every facet of their life. They have almost no time for even a normal weekend off, their "days off" are spent doing something with the business that needs to get done but they don't have time to do it on the days they are open. Both have considered hiring more staff so they can have more time to "get away". But the problem is, it would take them increasing their sales significantly in order to still net what they are netting now by doing it themselves. From what I gather it is definitely a labor of love and can quickly go from something you enjoy to something that is nothing more than a seven day per week low paying job.

Sometimes a hobby is best kept a hobby to ensure you're still having fun.
You are absolutely right. The days that we're open start at 6:00 am for me and generally don't wrap up until 9:00 pm. When we're closed we're working on cleaning, ordering supplies, putting them away, or planning the next opening. Or we're working on catering jobs and figuring out the layout, decorations, order of food and timelines.
Even when I'm on the road driving a truck it's all I think about. I think about ways to save money, improve my timeline so maybe I don't have to work as much, recipes, etc.
As far as hiring more staff to get more time off, it's my baby. I don't even like to run an errand while my wife takes care of things because I worry if she's making the sandwiches with enough meat or interacting with the customers enough or all kinds of crap. I don't think I could turn it over to someone else and actually relax.
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Old 11-08-2018, 07:06 AM   #27
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Just kind of following in line with what others are saying and this is a tough business. It certainly is a labor of love and it's a great time and I'm enjoying myself, but there's not a whole lot of money to be made.

My particular situation has me working on military bases so I owe them 10% of my revenue off the top. This has its advantages because military personnel actually get a pretty decent wage these days and they spend money like crazy. But that 10% going to the base really is kind of a pain in the butt. I'm working on getting permitted so I can work in town but I'm still struggling with a commissary kitchen. I've found one but they want $100 per month, which isn't terrible, but that's just more of my money going out the door.

Like Medic92 I cook everything from scratch because it tastes so much better, but it eats up my entire day to day life in terms of time. I do lunch service most days from 11am to 1pm (or a bit later if we're still busy) so I am pretty much living the graveyard shift. I wake up at 11pm at night and cook all night long, then drive 15 miles to my serving location, setup, and serve lunch. Then at about 1pm I break everything down, do the dishes, clean up, and drive home. Then I start prepping my meat for that nights cook and by the time I'm done cleaning up all of that mess it's pretty much time for me to go to bed to start the cycle over again.

Cleaning / maintenance of the food trailer also takes a considerable amount of time. So many nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned with a rag since I can't get in there with a mop. My smokers are on the porch of my trailer which is nice and convenient, but it's also a hell of a chore cleaning the inside of the trailer, and then the outside of the trailer. Breaking down the smoker, pulling out all the racks, scrubbing everything down, and then cleaning the floor of the porch takes a good amount of time and it's not very fun. haha

My first couple of months I made pretty much no money because I was serving portions too big and I have figured out that ribs were killing me. The food cost for ribs is quite high right now and no matter how I broke things down I can't make any money off of ribs unless I'm charging $13-14 for a rib plate. Problem is I'm capped at a max of $12 for lunch because that's what the base dictates...and it makes sense to be honest. How many people want to spend $14 for lunch?

I'm kind of just rambling now but there's very few people who start up a food truck / food trailer business and end up "raking in the dough." My trailer cost me $17K and that included buying the shell, and then getting it wired and plumbed, as well as the smokers. Then I had to buy a truck that would be reliable and capable of towing a trailer that weighs ~6000Lbs. The truck cost me $16,500 and I also needed a few grand worth of equipment and supplies to get started. So I basically took a gamble and went $40K in debt to open my business and see if my business model would even work.

So far I'm making enough to pay my bills and that's about it. I'm lucky that my wife makes a great salary as she can take care of all our personal expenses, and I'm able to cover all of my business expenses. I'm getting better at cutting costs and serving more reasonable portions, so things are looking up. If I'm able to actually get permitted I can start doing off-base vending / catering and that has a chance to really jump me up to the next tier of sales.
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Old 11-08-2018, 02:04 PM   #28
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Which one is it? I live in the same city, and yes, truly good BBQ is tough to come by in NW Louisiana.


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Just my .02 here, but have you considered a smaller place? Here in Louisiana Cajun and Seafood is king. But here in North LA. Good BBQ is at a real premium. I know of 1 here and you won't find it on any top 10 list. Sure there are some chains here like Dickey's etc. but I can make better BBQ (disclaimer, can't cook for masses). There are about 1/4 million here in our area. Mississippi down the I-20 corridor like Vicksburg etc is also in need of good BBQ. Wishing you Good Luck in your endeavors.
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Old 11-10-2018, 06:27 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by SmoothBoarBBQ View Post
Just kind of following in line with what others are saying and this is a tough business. It certainly is a labor of love and it's a great time and I'm enjoying myself, but there's not a whole lot of money to be made.

My particular situation has me working on military bases so I owe them 10% of my revenue off the top. This has its advantages because military personnel actually get a pretty decent wage these days and they spend money like crazy. But that 10% going to the base really is kind of a pain in the butt. I'm working on getting permitted so I can work in town but I'm still struggling with a commissary kitchen. I've found one but they want $100 per month, which isn't terrible, but that's just more of my money going out the door.

Like Medic92 I cook everything from scratch because it tastes so much better, but it eats up my entire day to day life in terms of time. I do lunch service most days from 11am to 1pm (or a bit later if we're still busy) so I am pretty much living the graveyard shift. I wake up at 11pm at night and cook all night long, then drive 15 miles to my serving location, setup, and serve lunch. Then at about 1pm I break everything down, do the dishes, clean up, and drive home. Then I start prepping my meat for that nights cook and by the time I'm done cleaning up all of that mess it's pretty much time for me to go to bed to start the cycle over again.

Cleaning / maintenance of the food trailer also takes a considerable amount of time. So many nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned with a rag since I can't get in there with a mop. My smokers are on the porch of my trailer which is nice and convenient, but it's also a hell of a chore cleaning the inside of the trailer, and then the outside of the trailer. Breaking down the smoker, pulling out all the racks, scrubbing everything down, and then cleaning the floor of the porch takes a good amount of time and it's not very fun. haha

My first couple of months I made pretty much no money because I was serving portions too big and I have figured out that ribs were killing me. The food cost for ribs is quite high right now and no matter how I broke things down I can't make any money off of ribs unless I'm charging $13-14 for a rib plate. Problem is I'm capped at a max of $12 for lunch because that's what the base dictates...and it makes sense to be honest. How many people want to spend $14 for lunch?

I'm kind of just rambling now but there's very few people who start up a food truck / food trailer business and end up "raking in the dough." My trailer cost me $17K and that included buying the shell, and then getting it wired and plumbed, as well as the smokers. Then I had to buy a truck that would be reliable and capable of towing a trailer that weighs ~6000Lbs. The truck cost me $16,500 and I also needed a few grand worth of equipment and supplies to get started. So I basically took a gamble and went $40K in debt to open my business and see if my business model would even work.

So far I'm making enough to pay my bills and that's about it. I'm lucky that my wife makes a great salary as she can take care of all our personal expenses, and I'm able to cover all of my business expenses. I'm getting better at cutting costs and serving more reasonable portions, so things are looking up. If I'm able to actually get permitted I can start doing off-base vending / catering and that has a chance to really jump me up to the next tier of sales.
Great feedback/advice. I truly know itís a crap ton of work...I have small scale experience vending before and that was exhausting. I more less was just trying to get a gauge on what people are making who do this full time. It looks like it just depends upon each situation. Iíve learned a lot from this thread though and appreciate everyone who contributed.
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Old 11-30-2018, 08:05 AM   #30
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I'll offer a bit of advice. I've never owned a BBQ joint and have very little restaurant experience. In college I had two restaurant jobs:
1 - Brand new japanese place, I worked two shifts. Guy opened the place, hired a ton of kids, business was really slow and he laid off everyone who wasn't Asian. I'm not Asian. He did pay me at least.
2 - An italian place that was just a cover for a drug dealing business - I didn't know that when I took the job. The cook's parents owned the place, his girl friend complained about how he damaged her car the last time he 'did some runs' and he talked about how the cops were watching his house. I worked three shifts and we had only 1 customer that entire time, and their food was on the house, and no one was worried about the lack of business. I quit. I didn't want to be there the day SWAT came in through the windows. Lost money on that gig, I had to buy some clothes for the job and never got paid.

All that said, I did run my own business for about 6yrs building custom bicycle wheels, so I know a bit about running your own gig and social media marketing.

SOCIAL MEDIA is an amazing tool. Done right you can really increase your brand awareness, and it doesn't cost you much, if any, money to do so. That said, you need to be thoughtful with how you use it. Pictures and video are greater than just text. Don't post crappy pictures. Be careful with political posts. Make sure you're using the platform (facebook, instagram, twitter, etc) the way it's supposed to be used. For example, on Instagram used to (not sure if it's still the same as I don't use it anymore) you couldn't post links that were clickable, and users couldn't even copy a link, so if you put a link in the caption of a photo you were relying on the user to then go open their web browser and type the link in. Very, very, very few people will do that. I highly recommend Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary V. If you know about Gary, you likely either love him or hate him. Personally, I really can't stand to listen to the guy, BUT, he is smart, and the book is a worthwhile read.

When talking with others about how their business is going, be a little skeptical. Many people will not be brutally honest with you if they're struggling, they tend to make things sound better than they really are.

Don't confuse busy with successful. Busy means you have a lot to do, success means you're making money. They're not necessarily the same thing.

Don't be afraid or ashamed or apologetic to charge a fair price for your goods. You need to charge enough to make it worth your time and effort, anything less just means you're working your ass off for nothing.

Don't compete with other businesses on price. You don't want to win a race to the bottom. Compete on quality, customer service, and experience.

Experience and customer service are HUGE. People can buy, whatever you're selling, at lots of other places. But people can only buy it from YOU and YOUR PLACE at your place. Highlight that. Sell yourself, highlight and sell your employees (this is a great example IMO), and make people feel connected with you and your business. With my businesses, I wasn't selling anything people couldn't buy elsewhere. People bought from me because they wanted *me* to build their wheels, because I had a reputation for doing great work. They knew I would put them on the right components to fit them and their riding style and needs, and they knew the wheels would be built right and would hold up for years. They weren't just buying wheels, they were buying a piece of me. Give people a look behind the curtain, show them your passion and dedication to your craft. People connect with that.

Offering discounts, sales, etc needs to be done carefully, if at all. Done too much it lessens the value of your brand and goods, people get used to the lower prices and that's all they're willing to pay. I've gotten used to buying blue jeans on sale, therefore, I don't ever buy jeans unless they're on sale.
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