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Starting a cookery business


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I live in the UK and I am a cookery writer (not full time!) and general cooking-eating enthusiast. I would like to start doing catering at dinner parties at peoples' houses, and also selling some of my products on a small time basis. I would like to know what regulations I need to be aware of, and any licenses that I will need to get to do this.

In terms of the catering, the idea is that people will be able to come to their house and cook a meal for them and their guests. I could do some prep in my own kitchen, but most will probably be done in their's (I will bring pots and pans - a specific set that I keep separate from what I use to do my own cooking at home). I will do all the clean up too!

As for the products I want to sell, I make various chutneys and drink syrups that I am interested in selling on a small scale. We have a couple of local shops that sell local products and I would like to go through them.

I have most of the logisitics figured out, but I am coming up short on the legal side. Any advice would be much appreciated, even if you can just tell me who I can contact to find out more.

Edited by heidih
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To operate as a food business you would need to register with your local Environmental Health, who would be based in your district council. They are usually quite helpful.

I have separate premises for food production but I know a fair few people who do operate out of their home kitchen. Environmental health should inspect your premises, I don't think they are too stick but they are keen on you having 2 sinks one for food washing and one for hand washing. At least my ones are. Also you would need a food safety level 2 certificate, which you can get by attending a 1 day course, of the most basic hygiene stuff. When I went on my one there was a fellow there who didn't even speak English, his son was sort of translating for him, and he passed. So that shouldn't be a problem.

Hope that is at least of some help.

Ben

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Its complicated, and you really should have a word with your local Environmental Health people.

However, before you do that, it'd be a good idea to know what you need to be asking!

And you need to be aware that you are talking about two different businesses.

Much better to ask them about each one individually.

The Environmental Health people are the people that you have to register your "food premises" with.

There are some exemptions from registration.

Your local Dept will probably publish a leaflet like this one http://www.basildon.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=653&p=0

But after you register, the premises become liable to inspection.

They will also probably have a leaflet setting out their interpretations of the requirements - for example does "washable surface" always have to mean "tiled".

AFAIK its only for certain trades (like meat handling) where inspection is always done before registration.

Your first enterprise ...

...

In terms of the catering, the idea is that {people I} will be able to come to their house and cook a meal for them and their guests. I could do some prep in my own kitchen, but most will probably be done in their's (I will bring pots and pans - a specific set that I keep separate from what I use to do my own cooking at home). I will do all the clean up too!

... could be presented to the officials as acting as a contract cook. If you hold off on doing prep at home, that is.

Otherwise, you are talking about "party catering" and they should then be on the same wavelength.

And, at least initially, you ought be able to make use of the "5 days in any 5 consecutive weeks" exemption for doing some prep work in your home kitchen. And its also worth noting that private cars used for transporting you and your prepped (or even purchased) food are also exempt from registration and inspection!

The second aspect ...

As for the products I want to sell, I make various chutneys and drink syrups that I am interested in selling on a small scale. We have a couple of local shops that sell local products and I would like to go through them. ...

... is rather different.

Unless you do a five-day buying/processing/delivering blitz and then, having completely cleared all your own shelves of saleable product, take five weeks off ...

Without wishing to be discouraging, it'd be sensible to think of insurance as well. You don't want to be poisoning anyone, but ...

And if your home kitchen is officially registered as a "food premise", you probably ought to make sure that your home insurance company knows about it before they find out for themselves! I'd be telling them you were "wanting to do some work from home" and asking them about any issues raised.

Entirely additionally, products sold through normal shops brings you squarely into contact with stuff like labelling legislation and Weights and Measures - which means a different set of bureaucrats - the Trading Standards Dept.

You had thought about ingredients listings, nutritional info and "Best Before" and "Sell By" dates, hadn't you? !!!

One way of finessing a lot of the requirements is to (please don't laugh) join the WI. There are various helpful exemptions for selling at WI markets. It would be a great starting point and it should also put you in touch with other like-minded people.

Which brings me to networking. Make opportunities. Chat up local café owners, ask the man on the burger van about his insurance, and whether he'd be interested in buying some of your Chilli Sauce ... people are generally helpful to others that they perceive as being in the same game but not direct competitors.

Another thing that I've heard of people doing is hiring the (registered etc) kitchen at a local (village/community/whatever) hall as the notional base for their operation. And if you had a friend that ran a restaurant that was closed one day every week ... !

Another different aspect is tax and book-keeping.

Do keep records of costs (and receipts) as well as income, fanatically right from the very start - even if it only proves that you aren't making any profit! Ideally, you'd like to have a bank account purely for the business, to keep its finance somewhat apart from your personal money, but that's not so immediately vital as keeping full records.

You need to turn over quite a lot of money before you need to register for VAT. You'd be doing well if that becomes needed! (And since most of your costs - food - has no VAT to reclaim, there's less point in registering before you need to.)

Yet another whole area for you to investigate is business start-up support from local, regional and national Government and their various agencies. However, that's probably best left until after you have dipped your toe in the water, and know its something worth proceeding with!

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Thanks for the helpful advice, especially dougal. I have just found out one of the local environmental health agency officers is a childhood friend of my mum, and she has said that she will drop him an email to find out a bit more about what I need to do to get set up.

I know that there are quite a few locally made, small scale business products in our local farm shop, so I would think that the local council is used to dealing with this sort of thing. As for the tax man, as a trainee accounts assistant who already has a side business selling my own cookbook, I am well aware of all the bits and pieces I need to do in terms of that!

If you guys think of anything more, please post. Also, it would be good to hear from anyone who themselves has made and sold their own products on a small scale.

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I can only echo dougal's suggestion about the WI. Since it allowed commercial trading (at least of a sort), the markets now trade as Country Markets. You'll often find they also have stalls at farmers' markets (and, by the by, they also allow men to trade). Excellent entry level opportunity for the jam/pickle/chutney/baking market - and I suspect Environmental Health have a very light hand on the matter (but obviously worth checking.

John Hartley

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  • 1 year later...

Fascinating to read this post, I had no idea you were in England Jenni! It's over a year since the last post and having just read the thread I would be fascinated to know how you've got on. I have friends who do home catering successfully, having run restaurants all their lives this business allows them to keep trading in semi-retirement without the obligations arising from keeping a professional kitchen up to standard. They do a successful sideline in preserves but sold only by word of mouth as without the regulated kitchen they can't advertise.

I look forward to reading how your projects have progressed since the last post.

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