Overview of Catering in the United States
There are more than 53,000 caterers listed in the U.S. yellow pages, not including hotel or restaurant caterers, and annual sales for the industry exceed $6 billion. Catering is a growing market for ambitious entrepreneurs. It is also a highly competitive industry, and you need to know about the market if you want to survive.
To give you a brief picture of the industry, take a look at the following survey completed by Catersource, a Chicago-based business that runs a large trade show for independent caterers and provides seminars for those in the industry. Catersource surveyed more than 300 independent caterers around the country. Most were well-established caterers in business for more than five years. Here are some of the results:
Just over half of the businesses owned their production facility or kitchen; the remainder leased space. One percent had a different arrangement, and this seems to be growing with the rise of shared commercial kitchens.
Two-thirds of the businesses said that their average party size was 100–250 guests.
The average catering business owner works an average of 59 hours per week.
All operators hired part-time staff during peak times.
Nearly 80 percent focused on off-premise catering, while 20 percent were on-premise caterers, either operating in a standalone banquet facility or operating through a hotel, private club, restaurant, or other large venue.
Trade organizations are a valuable resource for a new caterer. They provide educational materials about starting your own catering business and offer opportunities for networking.
Two of the largest catering trade organizations are the National Association for Catering Executives (
Joining a trade organization can save you time and money and provide you with new and creative ideas for growing your business. Have a business issue and don't know where to turn? A quick call to NACE or ICA will point you in the right direction. The contacts you meet through organization events can give you referrals for an accountant or lawyer in your area.