Types of Catering Operations: The Pros and Cons

Posted on October 15, 2014
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wedding catering

When they hear the word “catering,” most people think of the last buffet they went through at a wedding or conference, or picking hors d’oeuvres off of a tray at a recent party. However, there are many other types of foodservice operations that fall under the domain of “catering.” If you are thinking of starting a catering company or expanding an existing one, learn about the pros and cons of different types of catering operations to determine what is right for you.

Special Event Catering

Special event catering provides food for weddings, anniversaries, receptions and large-scale parties. It often involves the presentation and service of the food as well as different aspects of event planning. Some event caterers specialize in one kind of event, while others do them all.

Pros:

  • In addition to using your chef’s skills, you can use other forms of creativity for decorating and planning for the event. Also consider contracting with musicians, rental companies, florists and venues to increase your profits.
  • It is a good space to form a solid word-of-mouth reputation. For example, when one wedding is catered well, the bride and groom’s friends are likely to contract with you at future weddings or events.

Cons:

  • If you do not enjoy this kind of work, it can be time-consuming and stressful. Many talented chefs are hesitant to go into event catering because the event-planning aspects do not appeal to them.
  • Since you are catering an event that is probably very close and personal for your clients, a single mistake on your part can send clients into a fit.

Business Catering

Business caterers provide food for business meetings, lunches, training sessions, conferences and corporate parties. This is one form of catering that is in high demand, but there is also a lot of competition in the market.

Pros:

  • As opposed to many mobile caterers and special event caterers who make most of their profits during the summer or holiday season, business catering is in demand year-round.
  • If your corporate clients like what you have done for them, they may ask you to cater another meeting, a corporate party or even a personal social event.

Cons:

  • Since corporate meetings and events usually try to please everyone, you are limited in your cuisine to types of food that are widely popular.
  • Many fast-casual chain restaurants offer drop-off catering for lunches and meetings and often take a big share of the business catering market. You will have to compete with them.

Mobile Catering

Mobile catering is not done through contract, but rather moves from place to place in a van or truck designed to carry food and equipment. Examples of mobile caterers are vendors at festivals, fairs and farmers’ markets, meals-to-go services and parking-lot vendors. If you are interested in mobile catering, you may want to learn more about concessions, since these two areas often overlap.

Pros:

  • Mobile caterers enjoy low start-up costs due to the small scale and part-time nature of their operation.
  • This type of catering operation can be easily managed alongside a standard event catering business or restaurant operation.

Cons:

  • Much of the equipment needed to cool, cook, warm and sell the food must fit in a small, confined space, like a van, truck or booth.
  • Since mobile caterers operate at multiple locations or venues – often even in multiple cities – it is difficult to gain brand awareness and develop a loyal customer base.

Industrial Catering

Industrial caterers provide meals for schools, hospitals, prisons, factories, universities, airlines and other institutions. The most popular example would be Aramark, which actually started out as a peanut vending business and grew into industrial catering, food supply, career apparel and even facility management.

Pros:

  • Industrial caterers usually sign annual or semi-annual contracts, so they are guaranteed payment for a long period of time.
  • Service is out of the picture. Most facilities and institutions provide their food in a cafeteria-style service, or, in the case of airlines, through flight attendants.

Cons:

  • It is very difficult to start out as an industrial caterer. Most caterers grow into this business or have some pre-existing connections at facilities or institutions.
  • Because industrial caterers provide massive amounts of food, it is often difficult to maintain a high standard of food quality.

Each type of catering operation has its own appeal and drawbacks. You do not need to limit yourself to one type of operation. In fact, the majority of business caterers will also cater weddings or parties, and many special event caterers will offer mobile food vending at fairs and festivals. However, when you first start out, you should choose a single type of operation to specialize in. This will give you a focus for your marketing efforts and limit the amount of start-up capital you need. Once you have made your mark in this area, if things are going well, you can begin to expand into other types of catering.

 

John Garcia John Garcia (26 Posts)

Amateur cook, expert eater. Originally from Granby, Colorado, I'm a mountain boy who enjoys the simple things in life...like cheeseburgers and pet cats. I'm also a blogger for Food Service Warehouse who enjoys writing about food just as much as eating it.



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