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A home catering business can be a good entrepreneurship option for many women. 3 women in the business give us some inspiration and handy tips.
Cooking has always been traditionally synonymous with women and it’s not surprising that among small scale businesses, women mostly opt for a home catering business. Passionate about sharing their expertise and with some support, woman entrepreneurs who step into it usually fare well in developing their business onto bigger models.
Here is some inspiration, some homegrown nuggets of advice and tips for budding business owners on how to develop their home catering business from three women who have made it.
Deepa Saji Cherian, based out of Bangalore runs Deepa’s Malabar kitchen (contact at the link) taking up food orders based on set menus (veg and non-veg), as well catering for family events, parties, functions.
Another home caterer, M.S. Vijayalakshmi (contact: 7795766746), a veteran of 15 years, runs a vegetarian home catering business with orders taken via phone. The help of her family is the assistance she relies on when handling big party orders but she usually caters to small festivals, family gatherings and daily orders.
Abinaya Karthik, in Chennai, runs Chilleta (contact at the link) which started as a home catering business and presently an integrated catering enterprise.
While cooking for a family is often taken for granted, appreciation of their personal style often is the spark towards creating a home catering business.
Deepa shares that though she had always loved cooking, it was the recognition that her cooking received during a fete that encouraged her to start a home cooking kitchen. She recalls that initially she was able to cook dishes based on the order size with just the available utensils, borrowing her mother’s expertise for quantity and measurements.
Setting up a home kitchen is easy with the available utilities and beginners will be able to build on equipment as they progress. The expertise and know-how of cooking makes it a lucrative option for many women with entrepreneur dreams. A helpful family setting can be the most important investment for a home catering business.
Both Vijayalakshmi and Deepa, maintain on cooking on their own and only sharing the miscellaneous tasks with others. The ‘no-alternative’ attitude towards their cooking style, gives their business a branding for success.
Tackling the workload that accompanies a home catering business is especially challenging. Setting up menus, planning the orders, packaging and delivery options can avert last-minute hurry.
Planning the work-flow
Depending upon the order, food items can be purchased, and raw materials prepared in advance so that it can be effectively utilised. Usually planning the menu in advance and sharing is a good practise that can effectively reduce the strain of last-minute preparations, budgetary constraints.
A tip shared by Deepa, “I always make sure all the four stoves in my kitchen are occupied as per the menu requirements and I plan the work-flow accordingly.”
While it’s easy to use the existing home kitchen set-up, certain extra vessels and kitchen items do remain as necessary purchases. A home catering business often morphs into a family business, so pricing needs to be fixed early on so that the business can survive.
Deepa who runs Deepa’s Malabar Kitchen
Pricing, packaging and delivery
Deciding on the pricing for the menu items is also essential while starting out. Packaging plays a vital role and new caterers can study the labels of big brands and create a viable option for their brand. Planning and scheduling the orders can be quite helpful to avoid a pile up of food or waste.
Vijayalakshmi, who runs a catering via phone orders
The handling of orders and delivery, are other aspects that need to be decided before venturing as delivery options are an important part of the business model. Takeaways or delivery within the set distance, should be worked out with the customers so that the order transitions happen smoothly.
For example, Vijayalakshmi does packing in food carriers and has delivery options for close distances. Other orders, usually daily menus, are picked up by customers.
Growing your business
Following this, customer satisfaction and word of mouth are the twin pillars to build a broad customer space. A pro-tip would also be to improvise the dishes so that the catering gets more varieties and not simply follow a predictable routine. Customising the cooking order as per the taste sensibilities of the customer is another tip to grow a loyal clientele.
Licensing is dependent upon the size of the business and is a necessity only when venturing into large-scale business models. Cooking and serving food in a very small localised area does not require license, but in the process of expanding the catering business, licences and safety certifications are a must.
Expanding the business also requires a higher capital investment and to feature in popular food apps, the margins of profit often work out lower for the home catering model. Localised friends’ networks via social media are a better option to grow before transforming the business model.
Abinaya, who runs Chilleta, has a very clear work vision that rests on the belief, “One idea, one principle, one motive at the right time. My idea of implementing the expertise of engineering in the Food Industry, with the principle of serving society.” She explains how she was motivated to provide something good to society, when she saw many graduates jobless in her village.
Abinaya who runs the food catering business “Chilleta”
She has very catchy advice for new entrepreneurs “RYTHM – Raise Yourselves To Help Mankind.” She stresses on maintaining a healthy balance for personal growth and the importance of family as a strong support base. In fact, all the women say that their deep family commitment helped them sustain their business venture.
These home caterers explain that the common challenges of the business were the scarcity of orders at times and handling customer displeasures. Initially while starting out, orders are usually erratic for a home catering business, but only by staying focussed on the goal can new caterers attain success. Being goal-oriented and a professional customer service are important cornerstones for a sustainable business.
Following Covid, the women explained that they have had to improvise their work-flow, delivery options, packaging etc. The lock-down made their kitchens an important necessity as the burden of work from home, doubled with other tasks made cooking a huge obligation for many families. The home-cooked meals offered by the home catering ventures, was a convenient alternative for many during the crises. The business model did change, of course, with regard to packaging and ‘no-contact delivery’. The menus also reflected simplicity as materials remained inaccessible initially.
Presently, with online delivery of raw materials, with limited personal interactions, the businesses have continued, mostly through word-of-mouth and online platforms. As with everything else following the pandemic, the impact of ‘the new normal’ is yet to be fully revealed. To quote Abinaya, “Ultimately, the greatest lesson that COVID-19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together.”
Image source: M.S. Vijayalakshmi, Deepa Saji Cherian, Abhinaya Kartik
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