Recently, I got an email from a man who asked a simple question “What does it take to start a successful catering business?” I said I needed the answers to five questions first: How old are you? How much working capital do you have? What is your family situation? What are your three favorite movies? What do you know about food?
Three days later, he emailed his answers. He’s 28, engaged with no children. He has $11,000 saved. His three favorite movies are: Caddyshack, Band of Brothers and Forrest Gump. He graduated from a two-year culinary school and has worked for other caterers for the last five years. With these answers, I could make some assumptions about his potential for success as a caterer.
Catering is mainly a young person’s career, especially if you want to be an owner/operator. As we all know, it is very hard work. My first assumption is that his age is an advantage in starting his own business. If he were 55, he could still be successful-but with a lot more back pain.
The fact that he is engaged is, in my view, a potential strike against him. Caterers may work 90-hour weeks. Personal time is a luxury. It is pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have to work weekends and holidays. Personal plans are often sabotaged by last-minute orders or event problems. My second assumption is that a caterer’s life could be a serious strain on his relationship with his fiancée.
The biggest cause of failure for a start-up business is undercapitalization, but catering is often forgiving on this because events are sold with deposits months ahead of the performance date. Most starting caterers find simple solutions to this and other problems created by a shortage of dollars. My third assumption is that he might be able to make it happen, even with his very limited capital.
His favorite movies tell me a great deal. Caddyshack means that he has a sense of humor, which is invaluable for a caterer. Band of Brothers means that he probably understands the concept of teamwork and loyalty. Forrest Gump means he is a fighter and not a quitter. My fourth assumption is that he has the frame of mind to be a success.
Graduating from a culinary school and working for other caterers should give him the culinary skills and discipline needed to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk of a caterer. My fifth assumption is that he has a better culinary and catering foundation than many.
I emailed him a simple reply. “After reviewing your answers I feel that you have a better than average chance for success. If you can handle the hardships of long hours and the need to be creative with your money, then a career as a caterer might be possible. Please call me and we can discuss your next steps.” The only thing I didn’t tell him was that he won’t be seeing any new movies for a long time.
What would you have told him?