Catering from home – Do I need a commercial kitchen?

When planning to do catering from the security of your home it’s not hard to work out where you’ll be preparing the food. That will most likely be the kitchen.

Since I’ve been planning this endeavour for long before we moved home, the size and layout of the kitchen was one of the main factors in our house hunt. When looking at houses, D got to choose his favourite garden. I was allowed to choose everything else, including the kitchen space. And we were lucky enough to find a house that for both of us ticked all the boxes and captured our hearts. I got to cook in my dream kitchen (or what will hopefully be the dream kitchen, one year, one redecoration and way too much money later).

Having said all this, I have to admit. I was a bit swayed by the popular misconception that in order to do catering from home, you need a full blown Masterchef style commercial kitchen. Splash backs, 8 burner cooker, industrial freezers. The lot. And, if you have a penchant for Heston, ideally also a dry ice machine.

When I finally got around to calling my local authorities to verify this, I was more than a little surprised to be told that a normal, even petite kitchen will do just fine. There are however multiple rules and regulations that the kitchen needs to comply with.

To legally run a catering business from home you need to register the premises with your local environmental health services. The application needs to reach them at least 28 days before your open for business.

The Food Standard Agency website, an invaluable government source for all information relating to catering industry has a special tab for finding your local authorities.

I was dreading the call, as I generally dread getting through all the red tape. But the local Environmental Health Officer turned out to be extremely helpful and soon I was provided with all the information including the requirements for the premises.

One source I found particularly helpful is the Starting Up booklet. It’s available to download from the food.gov website here, and it gave me the information on what the rules are regarding the kitchen. The main thing really is that all surfaces (that includes walls, ceilings as well as work surfaces) must be in good condition, smooth and easy to clean. There must be adequate facilities for cooking and washing food, and separate facilities for washing hands. There are also other requirements, (including no pets in the kitchen – sorry Humphrey!), but none of them excessive or unobtainable.

Next step – arranging the inspection by the Environmental Health Officer.

Setting up a catering business - documents

Setting up a catering business – to do list

Now that the doubt is dealt with and the decisions have been made, I am moving on to the logistics.

Between me now and me the professional caterer, there are many steps and things to consider. To make them into a more manageable action plan I’ve put together a list. There is nothing more satisfying than a good to do list!

  1. Premises
    • Where will I prepare the food?
    • Are there any requirements regarding the premises?
    • Do they need to get inspected / approved?
  2. The Legal and other boring stuff:
    • Should I register a company with HMRC?
    • Registering the business with Food Safety
    • Insurance and Liability
    • Licence – when do I need one?
  3. Training
    • Do I need any specific qualification?
  4. Food, Health and Safety:
    • What are the risks?
    • What processes to put in place to ensure food hygiene and minimise risks?
  5. Equipment:
    • What will I need?
    • Where can I get it from?
  6. All the bits to figure out:
    • What type of catering company do I want to run?
    • What will be my unique angle?
    • How will I stand out from competitors?
    • Will I deliver or offer collection only?
    • What is my target market?
  7. The suppliers:
    • What products will I need?
    • How best to find the suppliers?
  8. The menu:
    • What foods do I want to offer?
    • What about the pricing?
  9. The profits:
    • How do I manage my costs?
    • How to ensure that I make a profit?
  10. The marketing:
    • What will I need? ( business cards, menus, posters and other bits)?
    • How will I get to my target market?

Over the coming months I will be (slowly!) working my way through this list and write about it as I go.  I most likely won’t keep to the exact order of the list, but I’ll try to make it as clear as I can.

Exciting times ahead.