Building a successful catering business in Nigeria

"People say you can taste a place in the food you eat. That food should take your mouth and tongue on a journey of process from the seasoning and spices to flavours and colours."

Catering is cooking, providing comfort and ease for many people; it isn't a skill just anyone has overnight; It takes experience to cater to a diverse crowd, especially to companies such as Youtube and Google. Latifah of Tash Bistro shares her experiences in her catering career, its ups and downs, and the hard work and dedication it took to get her business to the current level, which didn't happen overnight.

  • Who is Latifah of Tash Bistro?

Latifah Adams is Tash Bistro, and Tash Bistro is a medium to large scale catering company. We provide various food options for events ranging from weddings to corporate events, all kinds of affairs. Our menus range from typical Nigerian foods to oriental; we also developed a Tash special version of continental dishes.

  • How old is Tash Bistro?

Tash Bistro will be 10 years old this year.

  • How did Tash Bistro start its journey?

It started from cooking for one or two colleagues at my old job. It started at my old job. When I decided to go into catering full time, we started the business as a lunch delivery service, precisely corporate lunch packages. We grew from just delivering to random offices to providing to companies like Google, Addax etc. After a while, I started exploring the event catering space, and it was at a very critical point for the business. I had just had a baby, and getting back into the game with event catering was a real game-changer.

  • How did you find that catering was the right career path for you?

Right from when I was in Uni, I had enjoyed cooking for people. If you had asked many of my friends from school what I would be doing in 10 years, they would have said catering. I, on the other hand, did not think so. I enjoyed cooking, but I did not think it could be a career until later. I worked a lot both in the UK and in Nigeria, but what influenced it was positive feedback from clients.

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  • What does your workday look like?

Compared to when I first started, my workday was a lot; But now I am a madam. Obviously, having transitioned into events, my typical workday generally entails working with more people from planners, clients and meetings with my staff. However, my day is never really tedious because I work with a team that has a structure in place and a sound value system.

  • What are your favourite things about your job?

My favourite parts about my job as a caterer are the growth and compromise that occurred along the line. We are moving to our industrial kitchen right now, and it is so amazing to see. It allows us to deliver at even better standards than before, giving us much more opportunities.

I also particularly love growing based on each client's requests and needs. To me, that is something that makes this job tremendous and worthwhile.

  • What was your first ever catering job? How did it go?

It was the special Olympics held at Unilag some years back. My Dad helped me get it; it feels like a long time ago. It was a two-week event, and I had to cater to many people; I was excited. So that was where I kicked off with the whole Tash Bistro thing.

  • Seeing as you cater to both the event/wedding and corporate industries, what would you say are the similarities and differences between both sectors?

The wedding industry is more fun, open to creativity, freelance, and more clustered; you talk to more people to cater to each client's needs.

But for the corporate industry, it's more specific, tailored and stoic to what the client wants; it requires more knowledge about the different kinds of food preferences, from vegetarian to vegan to halal and the like. So there are guidelines you need to follow and respect. Thankfully, my team is pretty used to it, and they understand that structure.

  • What is the process to book Tash Bistro's catering services?
  1. First, give us a call or send a Whatsapp message; Whatsapp is preferred, so conversations and requests can be tracked easily.
  2. We send you the menu, with the terms and conditions.
  3. We choose options to help render the service to your taste, and we send you an invoice.
  4. 70% part payment confirms your booking.
  5. Then we get to work.
  • What has been your craziest experience so far in your job?

So far, there have just been a few crazy experiences on the job; Food bags left Lagos at 6:30 and did not arrive until 2:00 pm, almost 4 hours after the event started. It was a friend's Dad's funeral, and it was at Abeokuta; the logistics company transporting the food bags had a lousy vehicle, and they didn't tell us anything.

  • What do you do about problematic clients?

My first approach is to breathe in first, oh.

Sometimes, there could be a problem source causing the client to be difficult, and you need to find it to deliver correctly.

But I walk away from clients entirely, especially when my gut tells me there will be problems moving forward with the client; I apologize to them and move on based on our differences in opinions.

  • What factors influence the price of your work?

The price contingency of the equipment required, basically how we will be spending to purchase the things we need, really determines how much we charge. So it can be unpredictable sometimes. But we have to be prepared for the costs and understand that the client is in the same boat as us if the prices go up.

  • How do you manage your finances?

I used to do everything on my own before, but along the line, I realized that I couldn't do it on my own. So I have an accounting department that helps with everything money in Tash Bistro.

  • What counts as income and expense as a caterer?

Aside from food costs and the likes, Inventory has to be a significant expense. And this includes things like glass tumblers, cutleries, plates etc., these things damage easily and are expensive to replace.

  • What defines your success?

Success for me is growth, doing better than the year before, not just financially but in terms of client reach, client base, staff growth and overall business industry. But I am grateful that Tash Bistro has a name, and it's a trusted brand within the catering industry. As a result, my clients trust me, and this has helped to help grow my business and take it to the next level.

  • Final question, what goes into running a successful catering business?
  1. So firstly, catering is a business whereby you have to be up to code with your services to meet international standards. For me, that meant upgrading to an industrial-sized kitchen, which I did this year.
  2. You have to consider your business from the perspective of longevity and providing comfort, and away from just wanting to make money.
  3. And lastly, have a staff that delivers, carry them along with your goals and make sure they are willing to grow with you.
Hafeedoh Balogun

Hafeedoh Balogun