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Seven home-based food business ideas you probably haven’t considered yet

This is the first post in a series about ways to earn an income doing the work you love. I’d love to write one about your passion…just send an email telling me what you love to do.

You are a fantastic cook. Lovingly prepared food makes you all warm inside. You love hearing people ooh and ahh over your creations. You live for the quest for the perfect ingredient and the best recipe. Your kitchen is your sanctuary.

Just for you, I’ve describe seven different ways you can earn an income while indulging your passion for food.

But first, please notice  how “open a restaurant” is not on the list.

Why “open a Restaurant” is not on this list.

If you love to cook, starting a restaurant could quite possibly be the most expensive, emotionally savage mistake you ever make.

That’s because running a restaurant has little to do with cooking.

Restauranteurs run the house, manage the staff, schmooze, greet customers, create promotions, plan menus and more. But they rarely actually cook. Even according to the world’s most sexiest famous authority on running a successful restaurant, Chef Gordon Ramsay, cooking is the chef’s job, not the owner’s.

But you’re an entrepreneur. Which means, chances are, despite my warning you’re still stubbornly holding on to this ideal restaurant. That’s okay. Stay stubborn. It will serve you well. But you should also be realistic.

Some restaraunt realism

The start up costs for a restaraunt are insanely astronomical. Once you figure out how to pay to get the doors open, the operating costs are will eat up (ha ha, get it?) almost every penny you bring in. This is not an exaggeration.  According to the US National Restaurant Association, you’ll do well to keep 6 cents of every dollar you bring in…before taxes. The costs include the lease, the staff, utilities, start up loan payment, insurance, fresh ingredients, supplies and the list goes on.

The staff gets a special mention here becasue it’s the biggest expense and the biggest stressor. Finding great people to work for you is an art form. When you do, these people become extended family. You know and love their families. Their livelihoods depend on your success. Most start up restauranteurs work tirelessly for 80 or more hours a week, worrying if they’ll be able to pay their staff-family and still don’t make enough to pay themselves. Even after months of feeding a packed house.

If all of this still sounds fantastically exciting, then by all means chase down your dream to open a restaurant. Just be sure you’re going in with your eyes wide open.

And don’t dispair.

Keep reading. As promised, other options abound.

Seven ways you can earn an income while indulging your passion for food.

1. Become a personal chef

Personal chefs prepare a week’s worth of meals for 5 – 15 clients. They package them with reheating instructions and deliver them to their clients once a week.

The American Personal & Private Chef Association is an invaluable resource whether you’re following this path.  They’ve researched the industry trends & market data. They even offer software that will help you create menus, scale recipes, food shop, communicate with clients and print nutrition information labels. This is cool.

2. Home-cooked, heat & eat meals

This is great if you like to keep things simple. You will prepare and package your favorite meals with reheating instructions. Deliver them or have customers pick them up at a designated place on their way home from work.

I’ve seen this work really well with corporate relationships or by targeting large office complexes. Distribute your simple menu selection to all of the employees in a large office building. It’s best to do this in person…with samples in hand. (Of course you’ll ask permission from the powers that be first, right?)

Then you’ll take orders and payments over the phone or online. Prepare the meals and deliver them to the lobby within an hour or so before quitting time. You can even send a tweet or bulk text to let your customers know you’re in the building with their dinner. They’ll love you!

3. Cater meetings and small events

Every meeting planner knows that food is a critical part of a successful event. Introduce yourself to those smart folks. Many meeting venues don’t offer catering. So get your menu placed in their facility information packets. You can also contact wedding planners, non-profit development directors, anyone who has to regularly plan small to mid-sized events.

Be aware that catering takes a bit more cash to start up. You’ll need equipment, transportation, chafing dishes, serving sets, table cloths and more. But if you have the resources, enjoy making connections and cook great food, this is a potentially lucrative option for you.

4. Teach cooking lessons

Seriously there is no end to the line of people who want to learn how to cook. Your skill is in demand!

You can teach certain styles of cooking, like grilling, baking, crockpot or holiday meals. Or teach people how to cook for special diets, like gluten free, paleo or vegan. Or teach certain types of people how to cook meals, like young couples, teenagers, new parents or empty nesters.

You can teach private lessons in client’s homes, offer small group lessons in homes…think tupperware meets dinner party, or teach full-sized groups at the local community centers and churches…pretty much anywhere there’s a commercial kitchen available.

5. Be a private chef

This is actually quite different from being a personal chef and it’s also different from catering. A private chef will work directly with clients to create a menu for a specific event. You’ll then prepare the meal in their kitchen or in a space they provide.  Remember the Personal & Private Chef Association we talked about a minute ago? Yeah…you’ll want to check them out.

To succeed as a private chef, you need to have at least a few connections with the kinds of people who would hire someone else to cook for their dinner party. You also need to be great under pressure, able to improvise and familiar with preparing gourmet meals.

In all honesty, this is not an easy game to break into. But it might be perfect for the person with the right combination of contacts and skills.

6. Become a mealtime concierge

Yes, I made that up. Maybe we can call it a Mealtime Assistant. I don’t know. But I do know that there are TONS of couples and families out there who would love to experience cooking and eating dinner together.  The problem is, they don’t have the time or the know-how to plan a menu or buy the ingredients they need to have that bonding experience.

As a mealtime concierge/assistant you would clear the way for family mealtime by creating a customized menu, doing the food shopping and providing them with proven, simple, step-by-step recipes they can prepare together.

Okay, okay. You aren’t actually doing any cooking here. But you are making it possible for people to create memories and family traditions around food that will last for lifetimes to come. How cool is that?

7. Write a food blog

I hesitate to put this here because a food blog, on it’s own, isn’t a business. But tons of people are blogging about food, so it’s easy to assume there’s money in it. Is there? The quick answer is “maybe…eventually.”

Most successful food blogs make money through advertising. Sure, some people sell e-books or write the blog as a way to market their other services (see items 1 through 6). But most straight-up food blogs are monetized through ads.

The thing is, until you have a measurable and engaged audience, it’s almost impossible to command high enough ad rates to replace an income. Which is why most bloggers write as a side gig knowing that, once the audience is there, they should start seeing reveune. It takes time and patience and passion. And entering the blogging world has a pretty steep learning curve.

If you do choose to go this route I wholeheartedly suggest checking in with some of the blogging elites, like Darren Rowse at ProBlogger and Gary Vaynerchuk with Wine Library TV.  Better yet, here’s a kickass video of Gary in New York.  At around the 29 minute mark he talks specifically about making money from your food blog. Good stuff there. Really good stuff.

Your turn!

This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg for ideas. But hopefully it gets your thoughts rolling. Now, I really want to hear from you in the comments.

Which of these ideas would you start? Which would you hire? What unique food venture ideas would you add to the list?

One last thing: Before you print your business cards, please check your local regulations about the legalities of preparing food in your home to sell commercially. If your area restricts it, don’t fret. Look for a commercial kitchen you can use. Some suggested places to start: community & rec centers, churches, community kitchens and kitchen incubators. Or think outside the box. I have one client who cooks in a friend’s restaurant on the day they’re closed.
Photo by sometimes suzie

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12 Responses to Seven home-based food business ideas you probably haven’t considered yet

  1. Jen Waak August 24, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Laura, this is great. You are clearly an amazing ideas person, and I know you are enough of a maven to back it up, too.

    Being in the health and fitness industry, you could almost write the same post for our industry (owning a gym is a lot more fun in theory than it is in practice).

    • Laura August 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      Hi Jen and thank you so much!

      Oooh….health & fitness. My wheels are already turning! Thanks again. 🙂

  2. Tamara August 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I’m a dessert blogger and dessert business promotor. Thank you so much for recommending Gary V’s video. I just watched it an it was AWESOME!! He does have a potty mouth, but he dropped some knowledge. :-)Thank you!

    • Laura August 24, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

      I can’t disagree Tamara, Gary is a total rock star at this stuff. I’m happy to have helped you discover that video. 🙂

      Oh…and I checked out your latest post. A waffle cone maker?! Holy yum!

  3. Gail August 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I love that you explained why an exuberant food-loving cook should not open a restaurant! We all have this exciting passionate image of what we think our business will be … and then reality sets in! Running a business is not the same as working for the business.

    I love to cook, but I know I don’t know the first thing about a cooking business. I’ll stick with cooking at home or for bake sales. 🙂

    • Laura August 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

      Yes Gail! Reality sets in. Which is why I always recommend doing some research before jumping in.

      I’m a huge believer in the saying “Leap and the net will appear.” But the realist in me is jumping up and down yelling, “Look before you leap!”

  4. Merchandising Companies March 12, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Here describe some of ideas for home based food business that are write food blog, become a personal chef and be a private chef etc. Thanks to share home based food business ideas.
    <a href=””>Merchandising Companies</a>

  5. March 22, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Howdy! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of
    volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us valuable information to work
    on. You have done a outstanding job!

  6. becky October 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Hi! Just read this post after a search. I have a dream! I would love to start teaching people how to cook but also teach children. What would be the first step, aside from the obvious finding a commercial kitchen? Thanks so much for your help!

  7. amy harkins October 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    thank you thank you thank you…tytyty
    You have basically spelled out my exact thoughts of how to turn my love of cooking, sharing with others, caring and making a living all bundled into one into a reality for me and my family. Leaving a job that I was tossed into after 5 years and being 38 with 2 smallish kiddos….Im terrified of getting “out” there in the work force but now I have this very soft warm fuzzy feeling now that I see that my ideas are not out of reach or crazy…Thanks again and best of luck to you and to others…im crossing my fingers that I can lift off soon 😉


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