How can chefs build a home-based business that can feed the neighbours, or private events, and create a good income?
COVID-19 lockdowns have kept chefs at home, and many have lost their jobs. At the same time, the popularity of takeaway food has soared, and many households are looking for meals that are better than the usual takeaway or delivery options. Starting your own business may be simpler than you think.
Organise Permission to Run a Business from Home
This is not as difficult as it sounds - local councils are used to licensing home-based businesses. National food safety guidelines cover the issue, and as an example, here are the requirements for Sydney's Waverley Council. Give your local council a call to discuss. They will probably want to inspect your home, and you may need permission from your landlord - check the lease.
You may be required to do a Food Safety Supervisor course, even if it's information you are familiar with. Make your Food Safety Standards a point of pride, with hygiene and sanitation a part of your promotional banner - not just great flavours, but professionally prepared and cooked.
Design a Menu that Covers all the Bases
Keep it simple for the first few months, until you find out what's popular and who your customers are.
* Look at the people who live in your local area - the Census data for your postcode gives a useful snapshot, and it may surprise you to see the number of people in different ages, occupations and family groups.
* Start with 3 or 4 menu items, plus a couple of dessert options for add-on sales. Offer gluten-free and vegetarian or vegan choices, and make them sound as delicious as everything else.
* Organise labelling to show all ingredients and any allergens. You can print low-cost labels to order with the free Avery sofware, set up for each product.
* Offer family-packs to sell in bulk, and frozen products that can be eaten later. Cost all your menu items so each one is profitable - no guess work! There are free or cheap recipe costing programs that will handle this for you.
* Be ready for large group and party inquiries - quote per-person, plus delivery and extra staff for service if that's required. Make sure to inspect the premises beforehand, so you know how easy (or difficult) it will be to set up and serve.
* Organise the right packaging. The cost adds up, and it's another reason why you can't sell things too cheaply, especially if you want to use recyclable containers - include this in your recipe costing. Add a copy of the menu and other promotional material in the carry bag, so it's more than just a supermarket pickup.
Organise your Equipment
It won't take long before you grow out of the home stove, refrigerator and tiny freezer. Next step might be a small convection oven and two-door fridge. Work out where they will go, and what you need with power - 15 or 20 amps may need an electrician to run new wires.
Check the wide range of low-cost equipment available from SilverChef's Certified Used range - there are some serious bargains, and they come with a 3-month parts & labour warranty.
Start your Marketing - promote, promote, promote!
You need hundreds of people knowing about you to create dozens of customers, even if all your friends promise to order! This doesn't need to be difficult, but it's a reminder to go hard with promotion in the beginning and keep it going - word of mouth is great, but not enough.
Many chefs want to just get into the kitchen and cook instead of sitting at a keyboard - if marketing is not your strength, find someone who can help.
* If you're sticking to your local area, this could be as simple as a Facebook Business Page and a letterbox flyer.
* Your name, face and experience are important - introduce yourself, mention why you're starting the service, and explain how to order. The bottom half or side 2 of a flyer can be the menu.
* Collect customer details - name, email and mobile number, and start sending text messages - these have a 95% open are, and are an important addition to email and social media. Bulk texting services like BurstSMS let you save contacts and send messages at low cost. Mailchimp is a free and easy way to send email promotions.
* Have a professional phone setup - a clear voice message and prompt replies. You may want to invest in another phone just for business, if your regular line is always busy.
* Take good photos of your food - you'll need them on your ordering page and menu promotion.
* Start a simple website - it's your calling card. Wordpress.com and Wix are good free options.
* Be ready for occasional refunds. It's not you, it's just how things are these days - something was too spicy, they thought the portions would be larger, or delivery was too slow. No-question returns is what every larger delivery service and retailer now offers, and you need to be ready to do the same - don't take it personally, just learn and grow.
Make Ordering and Payment Simple and Automated.
Make it easy for everyone (particularly you), by starting with online ordering and payments. This can be done with one of the many ordering apps like OrderUp, with a low commission fee. Link to it from your Facebook Page or website. People are used to paying online, and you do it that way for safety, convenience and because you'll sell more. It also gives a record of your sales and will make bookkeeping and banking much simpler.
You'll need to deliver, or customers to collect. UberEats and similar services are also an option, but will take 30%+ or your sale price. As your business grows, find out what you need to do to get an Australian Business Number and claim back GST.
Offer great food, excellent service and convenient ordering, and it won't be long before you're looking for a bigger kitchen - congratulations!
Advice from Jane del Rosso, food business consultant
Jane has helped hundreds of people develop food products and meal plans for commercial distribution. Contact her at The Business of Food .
* Pricing a plate is a little different to pricing a product. It’s a bit of smoke and mirrors to most chefs, unless you also are the diligent business owner that pays attention to their margins. Make sure you include packaging and delivery. There’s no sense in making food if there’s no profit.
* Takeaway is effectively making food to order (just like in your restaurant), but once you start storing food for future sale, this will change the game plan and more laws apply, including labelling.
* Your knowledge of food safety will come in handy, but make sure you carry that thinking into the delivery of the food as well. Temperature checks, tamper proof packaging in transit, etc.
* Restaurant patrons often have allergens to consider and some let you know before they walk into your establishment. Make sure you know which of your dishes contain allergens and make that information available so people can order safely.
* When you start growing, take a moment to reflect on the journey and plan the next steps carefully. Is a fully-fledged meal business what you want for the long term? Then get some help with the planning and finances for the next level - it can be a doozy!
* The marketing and promotion covered here is effectively building your personal brand and reputation. This can be powerful currency when you are looking for a job if a business is not your long term goal.