Is There an App for That?

The New Year is right around the corner, and with it, a chance to start fresh with your business. Are you looking to make some positive changes? Maybe you want to get better at promoting your services. Maybe you want to update your recipes. Maybe you want to revamp your pricing, make better use of your time, or be more organized.

Chances are, whatever your intention, there’s an app for that: a software application that will help you in your endeavor. Many culinary professionals are so kitchen-focused that they forget that the right technology can be as critical as any kitchen tool, saving you time, money and stress in your food business.

There is a tremendous amount of technology designed for chefs, caterers and food business operators. From maintaining a pantry inventory to planning an event, you’ll find all kinds of applications to make your job easier. Here is a just a sample of the tools available for you.

Cook’n Recipe Organizer: For home cooks or pros, this app allows you to capture recipes you see online and save them to a searchable database of your own. It offers recipe scaling and nutrition analysis, too. Another popular recipe organizer is Living Cookbook. If you’re a recipe hoarder, and if you pull your recipes from all different sources, imagine the time you could save by having them organized and categorized in one library!

If you’re struggling with pricing your retail food product, you may be able to find free calculators online. For a $49 download fee, this calculator from SmallFoodBiz.com is an Excel worksheet that helps you factor in costs including production time, overhead and markups. It’s a good starting point for beginners who can’t invest in a whole business software package.

The American Personal & Private Chef Association sells a software package called Personal Chef Office. It’s an all-in-one suite specifically for personal chefs, and it covers everything from recipe and menu planning to invoicing and financial forms. You can manage your schedule and client information. It has a nutrition analysis tool that will update nutrition information in a recipe based on your modifications.

For caterers, commercial catering software like Caterease can help with everything from event planning and customer relationship management to menu planning and managing your employees. It gets into nitty gritty, like ingredient sourcing and job costing, and logistics like diagramming the floorplan of your event. It even has an ecommerce module so you can offer online ordering to your clients. Caterease appears to be the industry standard, but it’s pricey and could be cost-prohibitive for smaller business owners. For a more affordable option of with some of the same functions, try Total Party Planner.

Renting a Kitchen: A First-Timer’s Guide

If you’re a food entrepreneur, and you’ve never rented a kitchen before, the process can seem daunting. First, there’s the matter of finding a commercial kitchen to rent, and then hoping it’s available when you need it. We’ve observed the difficulty in that process first-hand; that’s why CookItHere.com was born. Hopefully, you’ve found this blog in conjunction with the main site, where you can search for a kitchen to rent. CookItHere.com lists commercial kitchens for rent by location, and we’re working to add photos, reviews and availability to each profile to make finding a kitchen near you even easier.

When selecting a kitchen, do some research to be sure that you’ll have everything you need. You’ll want to tour the kitchen before you decide; nothing beats a visit to assess cleanliness, quality and space efficiency. Here are a few basic questions to consider before you make your choice:

  • Is it certified by the local health department? Is the certification current?
  • What are the rates? Some facilities rent hourly; others have longer minimums.
  • What equipment is available?
  • What storage options—refrigerator, freezers, pantries—are available, and what are the rules and rates pertaining specifically to storage?
  • How much security deposit is required, and what is the process for getting it returned to you?
  • What unique features does it have? If you’re doing classes, you’ll need viewing space, or tasting/ dining space. Some kitchens even have larders you can access (for a fee) for on-hand ingredients.
  • General amenities: if you’re planning to spend any significant time at the kitchen, check out parking and restroom facilities in advance.

Before you can use a commercial kitchen, you’ll have to fill out an application and submit certain documents to the proprietor. Here is a list of commonly required documents:

  • Proof of liability insurance. There’s no getting around it; any commercial kitchen worth its salt will require that you have liability insurance. Amounts vary, but most we’ve seen require coverage of at least $1,000,000  with the kitchen named as additional insured.
  • Food handler’s certificate. This varies by location and by your business, but most local governments will require some kind of certification for any commercial food operation.
  • Business license. It is possible to rent a commercial kitchen for non-commercial use—ask the kitchen operator about individual policies—but many require that you have a business license.
  • Classes and/or orientations. Again, depending on the location, you may be required to attend a health department class or pass an inspection or test before you can use a commercial kitchen. Other kitchens have their own orientation programs that you must complete before you can get cooking.

Once you’re up and running, let us know how you like the kitchen you selected. Cookithere.com allows you to post reviews. And if you find a kitchen that’s not on our site, be sure to let us know—we’ll add it.