Tips from the Pros
There are certain general rules that most caterers agree form the basis of catering protocol. The following is a compilation from professional caterers around the country who have decades of valuable experience under their belt.
Essential Rules of Catering
The first rule of catering: Never give anything away for free. If you give something away for free, clients will always expect freebies. You must train your clients to pay for your services and value your talent. You can give a discount for a charitable event, but make sure you cover all your costs and some of your time. This is your living. Other rules to keep in mind include:
Always get a 50 percent deposit before you start working on a job.
Quadruple your food cost to determine a base price for a client if you need to give an estimate off the top of your head.
Always put in writing what you're going to do for a client and what the client is going to do for you. Don't rely on a verbal agreement.
Be the most organized person on the planet.
Be ready for unexpected things to go wrong at a moment's notice, and be able to handle it with split-second decision making.
Hire fantastic staff that will work hard with you and not allow you to fail. They must be ready and willing to walk through fire with you.
Have a sense of humor and use it often.
Be ready for some intense manual labor.
In order to protect your reputation, you have to know your limits. Saying no to something that you aren't equipped or trained to do or turning down an event on a day when you're already booked is better than doing it poorly.
Book staff ahead; the good servers get booked early.
Don't get into the rental business. There are enough bases to cover in the catering business without having to get involved in being a full-service rental agency. Establish a good relationship with a reputable vendor, and rely on them for your major rental needs.
If you're in need of a commercial kitchen to work in, take a walk or ride around town and go into as many commercial kitchens as you can. If you can find a breakfast and lunch commissary that works mainly overnight and in the mornings, you might be able to use it in the afternoons and evenings for your events.
These rules will become engrained in your memory after you start catering and gain experience. For now, it's helpful to have a list to refer to.