How to start a catering business from home

Do you love cooking, baking cakes, and making snacks? And would you like to turn your hobby into a business? It is perfectly possible to start your catering business from home, even alongside your job. Read all about cooking and baking from home, HACCP regulations, takeaway and delivery of food, registering with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK, and tax matters.

Surinamese, Italian, or whatever cuisine you prefer; everyone loves good food. Increasingly often, it is the home baker or home caterer who provides this food with love and passion, taking care of every last detail. It is no coincidence that food bloggers and vloggers have thousands of followers and that cookbooks are selling like hot cakes. 'Heel Holland Bakt', 'Masterchef', '24 Kitchen'. Cooking and baking are trending.

Hobby or catering company?

When selling food from home, it is sometimes difficult to answer the question: are you an entrepreneur or not? According to the law, you have a business if you independently provide goods or services to others, with the intention of making a profit. Check whether your activities meet the criteria for a business.

Catering from home: what you need to arrange

Many new catering businesses sell food from home. They start working from their own kitchens. Of course, you could also choose to start a little bigger, for instance by converting your garage. In either case, the following advice applies:

  • Check the conditions set by your municipality.
    You will probably have to report to your municipality that you want to sell meals from home. Find out if your plans fit within the zoning plan of your municipality and the rules for home renovation. The municipality can help you apply for an all-in-one permit for physical aspects, a change of zoning plan, or a conversion permit.
  • Arrange your registration in the NVWA register.
    If you produce, process, or sell foodstuffs, you must register with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).
  • Check your mortgage or tenancy agreement.
    In your mortgage agreement or tenancy agreement you can read whether you are allowed to start a business in or at your house. You can contact your bank or landlord to discuss your plans.
  • Check your insurance policies.
    Your household insurance and buildings insurance are for private belongings and the house itself. They do not cover damage to business assets or the work space. Therefore, you probably need to extend your current insurance policies. Check with your insurance company and, if necessary, consult an advisor. And take out insurance for the risks you cannot bear yourself.
  • Learn about the HACCP regulations.
    The HACCP regulations tell you, for example, how to make a clear distinction between food for catering and food for yourself. They also describe the requirements your work space must meet.
  • Get to know the conditions for delivery.
    Do you want to deliver food or drinks to your customers with your own transport? Then make sure that this means of transport is clean. Hot food must remain at a minimum temperature of 60°C before delivery. Chilled goods must remain at a maximum of 7 C°. Food contact materials, such as packaging, must be suitable for the storage of food and must not be a threat to food safety.

Astrid van der Pijl of 'Astrids Bakkerij' (28) sells cakes from her home in Vlaardingen and earns a good living that way. She says the following about the regulations for home baking: "Get familiar with the HACCP regulations. When I started 7 years ago, I took an online course. Take hygiene in the kitchen very seriously; it has to be in order. Not only for inspections by the NVWA. After all, you do not want anyone to get sick from your product.”

Dark kitchen: a restaurant without guests

A dark kitchen, also known as a ghost kitchen or cloud kitchen, is a virtual restaurant where only the cooking happens on-site. The customer orders their meal via a website, the cook prepares it in the kitchen and has a delivery service deliver it. This seems to be becoming a trend in the Netherlands. Online platforms such as Deliveroo and are booming because of this new form of catering. A dark kitchen must register with the NVWA and comply with food safety regulations, just like any company that works with food and drinks.

Working part-time

As a home baker or event caterer, you can choose to start a business alongside your paid job. Part-time entrepreneurship has advantages and disadvantages. You run less risk because you still have a fixed income, but you are more limited in the time you have available. If your business grows, you can always switch to full-time entrepreneurship.

Rosita van der Kruk (54) owns the catering company 'PartyRoos' in Westerhaar, and worked as an employee for a wholesaler. "I came into contact with people who asked me to organise their events. I did that as a hobby. People were satisfied and kept coming back. Then I thought: ‘Let me professionalise this.’ In 2012, I registered my event planning agency at KVK, which was the official start of my business. Later, together with 'De verrassende tafel', I switched to cooking workshops, catering, and live cooking on location. I quit my job and I am now fully dedicated to my business."

The importance of a business plan

Write a business plan. It will help you explore whether there is money to be made with your idea. Research whether customers will want your product. Develop a concept and determine your target group. Make a list of competitors and think about how you can encourage customers to choose your company. Van der Pijl: "You have to distinguish yourself. There are so many home bakers. I deliver excellent quality and I think carefully about my image. I use this image everywhere, including online, so you can easily recognise my company. I stand for exclusiveness. I only make each cake once.”

The business plan also helps you set the right price for your product. You need to end up with enough profit to keep your business going. Make an overview of all your purchases, and fixed and variable costs. Check the prices of your competitors and ask your target group what they are prepared to pay.

Many home bakers and caterers market their products through social media. Start with the social media channel on which most of your (potential) customers are active. By limiting yourself to 1 or 2 channels, it is easier to get started and you keep it manageable. Van der Kruk shares about customer contact via social media: "I use Facebook for private individuals and LinkedIn for businesses. These are 2 very different target groups. For private individuals, it has to be good, but not too expensive. The price is important. For companies, what I offer must be good, while price is less important.”

Tip: Look for collaborations with other entrepreneurs in the cooking or baking sector. By organising activities together, you attract a new audience and share the costs of location, advertising, and catering. Van der Kruk has experience with this: "During my work, I met a fellow chef with whom I got along well. That is how 'De verrassende tafel' came into being. We regularly rent a cooking space in a food hall and give workshops together."

Register your company with KVK

Every entrepreneur must register with KVK. Registration comes with a one-off registration fee. You need to make an appointment online. Before you come to a KVK office to make the registration official, you must complete the online registration form.

Choose a suitable legal structure. Most starting entrepreneurs choose sole proprietorship as their legal structure, which is easiest to set up. With a sole proprietorship you are personally liable.

After registration, you will immediately receive your KVK number. KVK will then pass on your details to the Tax and Customs Administration, who will send you your VAT ID and VAT number by post within approximately 2 weeks.

Business records and tax matters

As an entrepreneur, you have to keep business and financial records. You can do your financial administration yourself or outsource it to a bookkeeper or accountant. This often pays off. They will set up your accounts in the best possible way, assist you with advice, and are aware of the various tax benefits you can make use of.

Van der Pijl takes the time to do her accounts. "I sit down for an afternoon at set times. I hire an accountant for my income tax return. I would rather spend money on that than have to pay a penalty later because I did something wrong."

It is advisable to have a separate business bank account for your company. That way, you can keep a clear overview of your purchases and sales. Van der Pijl: "Respond immediately if a customer is behind on a payment. My customers pay in advance. Has the money not arrived on time? Then I send a message the next day. I am a professional and my customers get that message at every turn, including at such moments. It is also important for me, because I have to be able to purchase my supplies in time.”

Filing your tax return with the Tax Administration

From the moment you are registered, you are (usually) required to file a VAT return. You do this every quarter. Once per year, you file an income tax return. Watch this webinar about taxes for entrepreneurs.

Tip: Is your turnover excluding VAT in a calendar year less than €20,000? Then you can opt for the Small Businesses scheme (KOR). This scheme allows you to not charge VAT on your deliveries. You may then not deduct the VAT on your expenses either. If you use the KOR, you can keep a limited VAT administration and you do not have to file any VAT return.

Have you already thought about ...

  • name for your business? It is fun to come up with and important! After all, your name must be recognisable and have the right look and feel. There are also some official rules to consider.
  • privacy? If you keep a customer database for a newsletter or discount card, for example, you will have to deal with the GDPR privacy regulation.
  • hiring a professional kitchen for bigger jobs? For instance, in a community centre, sports club, elderly home, or educational institution. Such places do not use their kitchen every hour of the week.
  • finding information on rental contracts? This is available from the sector organisation Koninklijke Horeca Nederland.
  • consulting the Hygiene Code? Note that it  is often confused with the Social Hygiene diploma (Verklaring kennis en inzicht Sociale Hygiëne).These are different regulations. The Social Hygiene diploma deals with the responsible sale of alcohol. The Hygiene Code deals with the safe preparation of food and drinks.
  • visiting hospitality trade fairs? If you do so regularly, you will keep up to date with trends and developments and gain inspiration and contacts.
  • making sure you add your terms of delivery and payment whenever you make an offer? Delivery terms deal with liability for your product or service. Terms of payment determine how and when invoices should be paid. This prevents discussions afterwards.
  • committing to a social cause? This provides great promotion for your business. Sanne Alblas, board member of Stichting ThuisbakkersPunt, saw many wonderful initiatives during the corona crisis. "Home bakers made cakes for hospital staff or neighbours who were lonely. This received regular attention in the regional media, increasing the name recognition of the home baker and thus the potential customer base."

Tips from the field

Van der Kruk would like to give startup caterers the following advice: "Try to stay true to yourself. Be creative and do not simply copy the competition. And be patient. Do not expect lots of customers at once.”

Van der Pijl has a tip for starting home bakers: "Good planning is very important. Make sure you plan far ahead, it often takes more time than you think to make something."