When you start a catering business you will either have to buy, borrow or lease catering equipment. Rather than buying new gear you may be able to buy quality second hand. It is also common for catering businesses to lease or hire some items of equipment. Some caterers also rent time in a commercial kitchen and this gives them access to most of the more expensive equipment items.
Catering equipment can be divided into two basic categories. Firstly you have equipment for food preparation. Secondly you have equipment for food delivery and service. This article is a kind of checklist that looks at both aspects and goes into further detail on the items that you will likely need as well as how you can go about acquiring them.
Food Storage and Preparation
The first thing that you need to know is exactly what you will be cooking or preparing. You should also think about the number of people that you will be catering to at any given time. Plan out your menus and decide what market you are targeting before you look at your catering equipment requirements.
If you are running a sizable catering operation you should give some thought to how you will receive incoming goods and move them around. You will undoubtedly be receiving goods in large boxes or even whole pallets so you could need a hand truck or another suitable tool to help with lifting and moving.
You will need freezer and refrigeration space. Think about how much space you would need to store food for a large meal for a family of four. Then multiply this number by a figure, such as 25 to envision how much space you would need to cater to a banquet of say 100 people. If you are catering to numbers much larger than 100 you really need 'walk in' refrigerators and coolers to store food.
To cater for crowds of over 100 you will need a stove with at least 10 gas burners or electric elements. You will also require other cooking systems such as ovens, steamers, deep fryers and microwaves depending on your menus and your target market.
Many other modern kitchen appliances like food processors and mixers will also be useful for maximizing productivity. Then there are the large range of kitchen standards such as pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, and cooking utensils. A kitchen scale that can weigh large volumes of ingredients is also essential when you are preparing food in bulk.
Having an organized pantry for food storage is important. Although you will have a fast turn around time with food coming in and going out, there are many foods such as dried herbs and spices that have a long life. Foods like these can be bought in bulk and stored for some time. Maximize the productivity of your employees and get a commercial dishwasher. It can also be handy to have a regular washing machine in or near the kitchen for washing tea towels, uniforms and other linens. Depending on the style of your kitchen you may also require a ventilation system, a garbage disposal system and screens to prevent insects getting into certain areas.
Delivery and Service
Depending on the venue, your catering company may have to provide the table linen, table decorations, napkins, plates, cutlery, glasses and many other items relating to food service. You may even have to organize the tables and chairs among other things. If you offer buffet style dining then there is a whole range of catering equipment that you can choose from. Serving trays, beverage dispensers, carving stations and chafing dishes are just some of a large range of items that are available for putting together a buffet.
You will need a decent sized van for getting food, equipment and employees to a venue. Transportation becomes even more important if you are preparing the food off-site. You then need to look at options for transporting food and you might find that you need a vehicle with a refrigerated compartment. Packing food on ice in boxes is a cheaper option if you do not need vehicle refrigeration to comply with local regulations. If you must keep food hot during transit then holding ovens are also a necessity.
Events may be located indoors or outdoors, may be full-service or buffet style or could involve cooking on-site or offsite. Every event will be unique and require you to think about what equipment you will provide yourself and what equipment you will need to hire. A catering contract should be set out with the client, which clearly outlines what they will provide and what you are liable for.
You should try to stay organized by taking everything along in large labeled boxes or storage containers. Have an event checklist that outlines everything that you need for an event so that nothing gets left behind. Figuring out the equipment requirements for a catering business requires an unlimited amount of planning right from the beginning and on a case-by-case basis for each event. The key to success is having the right catering equipment to be productive and to satisfy the customer while at the same time limiting the expense involved with having access to that equipment.