Over the last few years, there has been a trend of chefs moving away from larger catering services to small one or two-man operations. Going it alone for a chef does present its own challenges as any entrepreneur will tell you. There isn’t any easy way to go about it.
What we’ve found over the years, is that these ‘start-ups’ often tend to forget that in order to get good contracts there are some quality standards, including hygiene and food safety requirements that need to be met before any client worth their salt will take you on.
Common mistakes small caterers make when starting out.
Firstly, you can’t just cook in your garage. There are some basic legal requirements in terms of the physical structure of a room that must be set up before you a caterer should get started.
First the physical structure needs to be of a suitable condition. This means smooth and easily cleanable floors, walls and ceilings. Doors, windows and ceilings that are weatherproof and prevent dust and pest entry. Check out this kitchen design resource.
Gaps in the walls, doors and ceilings need to sealed. This will help you with maintaining a clean environment for cooking.
The space you decide to use needs to meet the basic requirements of a kitchen:
- Wash up area
- Hot section
- Salad / Cold preparation area
- Sufficient cold storage
- Dry goods storage.
Wash up area
A proper wash up area is needed. This means, somewhere to wash plates and cutlery (if you provide your own). Usually this means using a commercial dishwashing machine. A separate wash and rinse basin, large enough to properly clean large pots and pans. Constant and regular hot water supply. Storage areas that separate clean and dirty equipment. Minimise the use of wooden utensils and aluminium pots and pans.
An area that has the cooking station / grill, gas tops etc. In order to comply with legal requirements, an extraction facility is needed to extract steam and grease. Compliant gas / electrical supply. Preparation tables are also needed into to separate raw food production.
Salad / Cold preparation area
An area that is provided for preparation of ready-to-eat foods. Ideally this is area should be cordoned off and cooled to below ambient temperature. Separate preparation tables are also needed here.
Refrigeration is needed, and will depend on the size of your operation. The guideline is that raw and ready-to-eat foods should be separated in a way that prevent cross-contamination. Usually “undercounter” fridges as well as “walk-in” fridges and freezers are used.
An area used for the storage of spices and other dry foods is needed (determined by items that do not require refrigeration), usually a separate room is used for bulk storage of these foods, and shelves for readily accessible items.
These are the items that are usually the last on the list on the stock order.
Remember that you are selling food for consumption by the public, therefore you have to comply we legal requirements, meaning how you cook and clean at home ain’t gonna cut it. This doesn’t mean you can’t cook in your home kitchen, but it does mean that you have to consider the basics of food safety.
You will need to consider your kitchen layout and storage capacity. And most importantly, you will need to include appropriate cleaning and sanitising chemicals into your start-up costs.
Because you are now commercialising your culinary skills, you need to behave and operate like a commercial kitchen. This means purchasing commercial kitchen cleaning chemicals and not skimping on the quality. We’ve seen this time and again, hurt entrepreneurs in failing compliance audits and losing potential business.
What are the basic chemicals that you will need?
- Manual washing detergent
- QAC-based rinse sanitizer
- Multi-purpose cleaner
- QAC-based surface sanitizer
- Degreasing agent
- Floor cleaner
- Hand washing liquid soap
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Basic cleaning equipment
- Mops & brooms
- Squeeze bucket for mops
- Semi-Disposable cleaning cloths
- Paper towel
- Plastic-bristled scrubbing brush
- Spray bottles
- Chemical dispensing equipment
Essential food safety equipment
Below is a list of essential equipment needed to comply with food safety requirements:
- Digital probe thermometer
- Colour-coded plastic cutting boards
- Colour-coded chef knives
- Heating & hold holding facilities (hot boxes / Bain maries)
- Chilling fridge / blast chiller
- Sample bags / containers
- Sanitising containers
Seeking suitable advice and support
The reality is, that food safety and kitchen hygiene has to be something that must be managed, there is no once-off plug and play system. Food safety needs to be actively managed in order to ensure ongoing compliance and quality improvement. Just like the menu is continually improved, better, fresher ingredients make all the difference.
There are a few options at your disposal when it comes to learning about, and implementing food safety, hygiene and quality systems. The first is to educate yourself, you as the owner, manager, and chef need to understand what the risks are, before you can implement any requirements.
A definitely guarantee of having a hygiene system in place, in the natural improvement in quality and cost management. Seek advice from your local food safety / hygiene consultants, microbiological testing laboratories. These consultants are there to help you manage and maintain a quality system, just the same as large caterers, hotels and manufacturers do.
We offer a few resources to kick start your education :
The last piece of advice we can give, that you should have a hygiene / microbiological analysis done of your kitchen, staff and foods in order to get a better understanding of what the state of your kitchen food and operations are in. And most especially the what risk level you are at, in terms of preventing potential food poisoning.
It is not only important from a quality stand point, but also from a marketing perspective. You will not have returing clients who have gotten food poisoning, which ultimately means lose of business.