Restaurant or Catering?

Posted by yasmin on March 22, 2013

Restaurant vs. Catering

Restaurant vs. Catering

Differences between owning a Restaurant and a Catering Business


I've had restaurants. Quite a few, actually. Some more successful than others – and as proof of that, I bet you only thought I had two, right? But after Chef Marisoll's in Old San Juan, and before Étniko in Miramar, I had other adventures in the restaurant world.


Then, I started my Catering Business. It has been my main means of revenue for more than six years. Again, some years more successful than others, but we will talk about world economics and the downfall of society another time.


The thing is, being a Restaurateur does not prepare you for the rigors of having a Catering business, or vice-versa! I discovered this little detail after I made the switch, of course, but the fact is most people think otherwise. I've decided to bring to light those differences. Maybe somebody will read this before they switch sides, and will be able to plan accordingly.


Caterers who are just starting out must estimate their expenses for all aspects of their operations. (…) Services can include equipment rentals, transportation, staff, entertainment, audiovisual equipment, floral services, and even valet parking – as well as food, wine, and liquor.”

Catering: A Guide to Managing a Successful Business Operation / The Culinary Institute of America, Bruce Mattel, 2008.


Let's say you have a restaurant. You have a place (permits, rent, utilities, maintenance). You offer a carefully crafted menu. You have storage space for food and staples – those just bought and also for leftovers from unsold menu items. You designed your kitchen, and made all the decisions about its equipment. You chose china, glassware, silverware, and tablecloths. You have a fixed staff, and you set up schedules according to volume forecasts. You have hours of operation. You made decisions about décor, ambiance, and space.


Now you have a Catering Business. You don't have a place. Your menu changes as requested, and varies according to all the new variables your business brings: different venues, type of event, size of event, and such. You have to buy food for a percentage over what the contract says, but have no way of saving what is not used. You need to think about all possibilities, and pack accordingly. What if there's no running water at the venue? No electricity? No stove or fridge? You need to bring them. What if there's no prep space? No sanitary facilities? No garbage disposal? No roof? You need to bring them.


This means transportation. You need to figure out how to bring everything you could possibly ever need in the smallest truck you can rent. Somebody gets hurt under your care? You need to have the kit, and become a doctor in the field. It's almost like packing to go into the desert – forever.


The unknowns? Plenty. You may have no control over the china used, the silverware or glassware, the table settings or décor. Or, you may be called at the last minute to make the seating area “presentable” with, guess what? Whatever you brought in your magic truck.


Who do you bring to work with you? That also depends on the event. Therefore, you don't have a well-known, well-polished staff who know your every whim and desire. You hire on-demand. They are not your employees.


Hours of operation? Those are a thing of the past. You may be lucky enough to know your schedule for the next two weeks!


And forecasting? Please! If there was ever a gamble, it is to say you know for certain how many gigs you will have next summer!


The big surprise? Even though you don't have a public establishment, you still need all those pesky permits to operate your business. And sometimes, depending on where you are, there are even more permits required to have a business run out of your garage.


In the end, Restaurateurs and Caterers share a common goal: to create a memorable experience for the guests. The road to success is very different for each one, though.


Would I change my Catering Business for the comfort of a restaurant? No. I would have them both. A restaurant becomes your home. There's a sense of family, of safety and comfort that all Chefs look for. However, the rush of adrenaline I get from a Catering Event planning, menu designing, tasting day, and the actual running of the event are like an addiction. I get a new challenge with every contract. A new opportunity to rise to the occasion, and succeed.


I don't think I can live without that anymore.



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