5 Things that Do NOT Make You a Caterer

TPPHow many times have you talked to someone who says, “I thought about becoming a caterer at one point,” when they hear that you’re a caterer—or perhaps even at an event you’re catering? Or, worse, “Yeah, I’m going to cater my niece’s/daughter’s/neighbor’s wedding/bat mitzvah/some other important event myself, because at one point, I nearly became a caterer.”

Whoa! Hold the phone. Sounds like they need our list of 5 things that do NOT make you a caterer.

Because we here at Total Party Planner always wonder, when they say, “I nearly became a caterer,” do they mean they actually wrote up a business plan, looked into small business loans, assembled recipes, looked into suppliers, and looked at real estate and licensing requirements?

Or do they mean that once or twice over wine with friends after a particularly fine dinner party, their friends said, “You should totally become a caterer,” and they considered it for a hot minute?

It’s a compliment that professional caterers make their job look so effortless that lots of people go, “Oh, I could do that—how fun!” And if someone truly cannot afford a good caterer and wants to try to do food for a big event themselves, we get that. We’ve all been there at some point (although even self-catering gets expensive fast if you buy a lot of prepared foods—it’s often not worth the hassle).

But as we all know, catering is a grueling, physically and mentally demanding job. It’s often well worth the applause at the end of a successful event. But some days, it can be pretty thankless up to that point.

That’s why the Total Party Planner team has come up with this handy dandy list of 5 things that do NOT make you a caterer.

5. A BJ’s or Costco membership.

People see the nicely packaged, well-marketed hors d’oeuvres and think, “Yeah, I can just buy a bunch of these, heat them up, BAM—my event will be catered!” First, people underestimate the actual work that will go into heating up of masses of frozen quiches and bacon-wrapped scallops in a kitchen not equipped for such things. Second, they also underestimate the cost and the health-factor. The mark-up on these items is crazy, because you’re paying for convenience. And then look at the ingredients. Preservatives, artificial stuff, usually loads of fat and grease. A few of these items are fine, but balance them with healthier options. A good caterer knows how to do this.

4. A great cookie recipe.

Don’t make a dinner party out of a snickerdoodle. You like to bake? People compliment your desserts? Fine. Become a baker. But even then, being able to bake well or having a couple of great recipes doesn’t mean you have the business acumen or entrepreneurial prowess needed to make a business out of that one recipe. Oh, and hint: You usually need way more than one recipe for any bakery or catering company. Unless you’re an Oreo. But even then, Nabisco has dozens of recipes at their disposal. So there you go.

3. One successful dinner party.

When a dinner party goes really well and everyone is complimenting the food, it’s tempting to dream about throwing parties for a living. But the biggest difference between doing it for fun and doing it for a living is scale. The parties have to be bigger, more frequent, and you have to go out and find the party AKA the clients. That involves marketing, networking, and even advertising. Which is kind of like sending invitations to friends for a party—and yet, not quite.

2. Everyone always says, “You should be a caterer.”

And if they said you should jump off a bridge, would you? Again, consider the source. Most people don’t truly know the work that goes into catering. Or, they just don’t like you. Could be a trick. Next time, call their bluff and ask, “Why? Why do you think I should be a caterer?” If they say something like, “Well, I don’t know, just thought your food was soooo good and seemed like a good idea…” you’ll know they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Don’t listen to them.

1. You like to cook.

This one trait is important if you want to be a caterer. And if you REALLY like to cook with all your heart and soul, then you might actually want to consider catering. But if the thought of cooking for hundreds of people, day in and day out, and the pressure of pulling off a big event makes you sick to your stomach, then stick to just enjoying cooking as a hobby. That way, you’ll continue to love cooking.

What does make you a great caterer?

Devotion to the craft of creating fine food for every occasion, from picnics to white-tie affairs.

Dedication to your staff and your clients.

Sheer love. Love of food, of what you do, of that feeling of satisfaction when you know you’ve made someone else’s night… or lots of people’s nights!

And being a night owl is certainly helpful but not a hard and fast requirement.

What would you add to this list of things that do NOT make you a caterer? What motivates and re-energizes you on really tough catering days?