THE rising overheads and labour costs of traditional restaurant operations have prompted some of the city’s best culinary talents to make the move into catering.

While each of the latest batch of catering companies was set up for different reasons, there is a common undercurrent to each business model – while there’s a good living to be made out of food, food service is where the best returns are to be had.

The newcomers to the competitive catering industry are incorporating more food service offerings, including cooking classes, on-site training, produce sales, and just about anything else that cross-promotes the core catering business or generates an independent stream of income.

Craig Young recently launched Urban Pantry and, as an experienced chef, believes catering allows him to continue working with his passion for food but does not burden him with traditional restaurant expenses.

“When you look at the overheads [for a restaurant] and what you need in regard to staffing requirements, equipment and facilities, it is expensive. Staffing the front of house is huge and you don’t know how much trade is going through the door, but you have to have staff on,” Craig says.

But relying solely on the catering dollar is risky, he says.

“The way I’ve structured it is that if the catering doesn’t happen I’ve got other things to fall back on,” Craig says.

Urban Pantry offers cooking classes, sells food goods and has an on-site cafe to complement the catering section.

While Craig says he wants the catering function to be the main breadwinner, he has structured the peripheral business units to cross-promote each other and, of course, his catering service.

“I’ve diversified rather than specialised but they are all linked together ... a catering client could potentially purchase my produce, or someone attending my cooking class could book a catering job, or someone who visits the cafe could buy some produce as a gift, and so on,” he says.

Michael Forde recently came back to Perth after working as a chef in some top restaurants in the UK and Melbourne.

Rather than go back to familiar territory, however, the expenses associated with the restaurant business hastened a planned move in a new career direction.

“I started catering because the initial cost was much cheaper,” Michael says.

He launched Michael Forde: Food, Catering, Consultancy at the beginning of this year and is now in the process of purchasing a restaurant lease to enable him to offer more food service products.

Michael says a restaurant cannot be “just about food”. His aim, therefore, is to open a restaurant that offers consumers more food experiences – and one that will generate a viable income.

“It will be a food centre more than a restaurant. I don’t believe restaurants can make a very good living out of just being restaurants. You need more points of sale,” Michael says.

“Of course if you have location or a well-known name this may not be the case.

“You can make money in catering by doing bulk jobs, but if you are not doing enough volume you cannot buy in bulk and you do not make as a good a return.”

He says his new restaurant venture will run alongside his current catering and consultancy business, as will cooking classes and other food-based service ideas.

Moving out of the restaurant scene last month was Alberto Tassone, who sold his share of Perth restaurant Millioncino to set up his exclusive high-end catering and training company, Villa Catering.

Alberto says that while his company is aimed at private people wanting to entertain in their homes, the catering aspect is only one part of Villa Catering.

“What we do is offer training for the in-house staff; we train them to cook, to set up, to prepare for a party,” he says.

“If a person is entertaining on a yacht, what is the in-house person expected to do? We work on a management strategy.”

Alberto has pitched his catering company to Perth’s high-flyers, those wanting to entertain for a group of people without having the time, or the inclination.

“The baby boomer market is well established and has beautiful houses, artwork and other pieces that they can’t carry around with them,” he says.

“I want to help them entertain at home, which can be very stressful [for them].

“I want to work with people who know what they want. They appreciate the work that goes into it and are prepared to pay for it.”

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