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Nov 11, 2013 06:16 PM

Questions for Caterers!

Hi guys! I know I should check with my state and all but I thought I would ask anyway. I've really wanted to start a catering company, but it would have to be in client's homes or a separate venue for now until I get my own commercial kitchen, as it's not legal in my state to use my own. I really want to focus on theme dinners where people can see an invitation and menu and decide to attend. My questions are does anyone know if this is legal, since it's similar to an underground restaurant and those are not legal? Would it have to be a group that knew each other and the host was the only one who paid me for it to be allowed? Would each client's kitchen need to be inspected? I see people doing things like this and advertising them, so I know there is a way to do it. For example, Ben Starr and Jennie Kelly's underground restaurant, is advertised pretty publicly. Should I just be a basic caterer/personal chef type thing? Basically, I do not want to get into trouble :) Any help would be much appreciated!

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  1. Just because "there's a way" to do something doesn't mean it's legal. If it's illegal in your home it's illegal in theirs too. There's a reason these things are underground.

    If you want to be a personal chef, fine. Awesome. Obviously we can't know your local laws because we don't know where you live, but most state, county, city and other jurisdictions prohibit commercial sale of any food prepared in a residential kitchen, with very few exceptions, and it'd be up to you to research what applies in your area.

    But if you don't want to get into trouble, this is a bad idea. Because you will.

    As a private chef, you could get around most of this. Who your host invites to his home would be his business. Once money starts changing hands it gets tricky, and he could be the one paying a hefty fine, not you. He can't sell any food prepared in a residential kitchen either, at least not where I live.

    *However,* some people get around this by offering "classes" where food is served. You pay for the class, not the food. Wink, wink.

    3 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      Does that mean that jams etc sold at church fetes cannot be made in granny's kitchen?

      1. re: cronker

        these laws vary from state to state, but typically, jams and Jellies are allowed, because the processing kills any bacteria. basically the laws are in place so you don;t get sick from eating contaminated food.

        1. re: cronker

          In San Diego County, CA, they have to be made in a Commercial kitchen if they are to be sold.

      2. I see no reason why you could not be a Personal Chef/Independent Contractor to work in a person's home. I would still suggest you look into liability insurance for yourself, but I would state on any contracts the host, or homeowner is responsible for any food purchased and that they waive liabilty to you so any party would be covered under the homeowners policy. ...Effectively, you are simply hired help.

        8 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Personal Chef works, independent contractor? Probably not as the host would set time, place, hours for labor.

          The chef definitely needs not only liability insurance, but also must provide the host with some sort of workmen's comp proof of insurance. Without this the homeowner's insurance carrier might have a way to refuse to pay under some policies.

          Also, the homeowner can't 'waive liability to you'which could be construed as passing the liability onto the chef. I think you mean to suggest (and correct me if I misunderstand your intent/words) that the homeowner will imdemnify the chef and assume liability through the homeowner's insurance policy.

          Whether or not the homeowner can bind their insurance carrier varies by policy and state. In some states the chef might have to be made a named insured for the specific event in order to bind the insurance carrier.

          As a suggestion to the OP:
          If you live in an area with volunteer fire houses, veterans organizations with halls and other societies with social halls (or even small churches). You might approach them about running a theme dinner (cooked by you in their commercial kitchen) where they get a percentage of the take for their charity, you would be covered under their insurance and start making a name for yourself.

          Back in the late 70s, when I left the kosher catering company I worked for and went off on my own, I cut a deal with a small local synagogue to work out of their kitchens. I paid a flat percentage of sales to cover rent, ulitities and supervision and was named insured on their liability and workmen's comp policies for less than $250 per year.

          I know a number of caterers and bakers who have started working out of church kitchens.

          The other route I have seen sucessfully used is to rent the kitchen (already licensed and supervised by the health district) of a restaurant who only does breakfast and lunch to produce dinners and off site affairs.

          Here in southern Connecticut the City of New Haven planned to help people like the OP by turning the unused commercial kitchen of the former Gateway Community College into a 'Food Incubator', this has been thwarted due to roof stability problems, but they are looking to go forward in the future:

          1. re: bagelman01

            yes, you are correct about the insurance...I misspoke and meant imdemnify...this is what happens when you can't sleep and come on CH in the middle of the night. The PC should set their agreement to reflect the homeowner is solely responsible and accepts full liability through their homeowners policy or other

            You don't see a Personal Chef as an Independent Contractor as well? S/He is a person that owns their own business and has multiple clients...That's what sets them apart from being a PRIVATE Chef, who works for only one client. I don't see how hours, time or place has anything to do with distinguishing between the two. Both show up when services are requested or required


            1. re: fourunder

              No, I see the personal chef as a sole proprietor of a business who may be providing services to many (or not) customers and billing for services provided. I would not be expecting the homeowner to be giving the personal chef a 1099.

              Among the factors that determine if an employer has an employee or independent contractor are whether the employer sets a strict schedule of where and when the work must be performed. Telling the chef that you may come in to my house anytime after 3 but the first course must be served at 7 and the mains at 8 and desserts at 8:45 and you must clear and clean and leave by 11 is a bit to definitive a schedule for an independent contractor. Instead by an agreement/contract between the homeowner and the chef that sets this out, the chef is a contractor/businessperson similar to a painter or plumber or carpenter who comes to the house to do a job according to agreed upon specs. The typical homeowner paying John Doe, plumbing contractor doesn't issue a 1099. The personal chef in this case is a personal services provider.
              Yes the chef in this case is a contractor, working by agreement/contract and independent; not employed by a company owned by another, but that is not an 'independent contractor' for IRS/state/Wage/employment purposes.

              Isn't the English language great? An independent person providing a service evidenced by a contract (oral or written) does not an independent contractor make..................

              1. re: bagelman01

                If the homeowner pays said personal chef more than $3500(?) annually, then they would be required to issue a 1099, no? I think that rule is in place even for home care or babysitting says the IRS

                1. re: fourunder

                  it doesn't sound like this startup caterer who might use a client's home would be getting that kind of money............

                  You reference domestics (baby sitting/homecare) and I understand the rules applying to them, and even the need to pay social security taxes, etc. But a contract service provider who is a sole proprietor might be viewed differently. I certainly pay my lawn care contractor more than $3500 per year and have no obligation to issue a 1099. He provides a service to me according to our agreement, supplies his own tools/equipment and insurance. and I know full well that if he gets hurt while working on my property a claim will be made against me as well as his carrier.

                  I really don't think the OP is to be considered a 'Personal Chef' who comes to the homeowner's premises for the sole purpose of cooking/preparing food for the homeowner and guests/family. Here the OP is looking for ways to establish self as a caterer avoiding the need for a commercial kitchen, license, inspections and insurance.

            2. re: bagelman01

              Interesting thing about renting a church kitchen to start your commercial venture. We were looking into this and were told they can't rent you their kitchen without losing their tax-exempt status. Perhaps we were misinformed.

              1. re: acgold7

                Having run Country Clubs and Golf Outings where dinners were sometimes held in Church facilities.....the latter non-profits can only accept a certain amount functions and are limited to usually member sponsored events or community events,e.g. police or fire department sponsorship. At equity membership clubs, functions needed to sponsored by members and usually limited to family and the occasional charity organization. Outside functions very limited.

                1. re: acgold7

                  It can be all about creative accounting and the verbiuage of the agreement.
                  It is not unusual for non-profits to rent out space and use the income to fund thier charitable/exempt operations. The income from the kitchen would be a mere fraction of the operating budget and be considered incidental. At most synagogues, for example, members are charged a kitchen fee when hosting a wedding or Bar Mitzvah.
                  These fees also charged to caterers for use of the kitchen and its equipment do not cause the loss of tax exempt status.

                  In the NY area it is very common for synagogues to have resident/exclusive caterers who lease the kitchen and ballrooms....soimetimes for a set rental fee, other times for a percentage cut for the synagogue.

            3. Set up a LLC, Get at least 1 Million in General Liability.

              Edit: I'm not a caterer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.

              1. This may not be exactly what you are looking for, but .... dunno, perhaps worth checking out?


                I love this idea, btw. There are several of these dinners in Berlin, hosted by private people and paid for by a suggested contribution. Pretty much as the website says.

                1 Reply
                1. re: linguafood

                  I love this idea also; if I didn't live in the country and a distance away from everyone else, I would definitely do this myself.

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