Starting a meal prep delivery service is one of the most rewarding things I have done. I’m able to be a creative cook and flex my creative muscles on a weekly (if not daily) basis. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows as the logistics of starting a new business in the food industry can be challenging. Here I’ve outlined the steps I took to make sure my meal delivery service company was sound in the eyes of the law.
Before getting started, I want to be very clear that I am not a lawyer – I’m a meal prep delivery owner! While I hope this guide provides valuable advice on getting started, nothing here should take the place of speaking with a lawyer.
Here are the legal hoops to jump through:
- Find a kitchen. In many states, like Florida, it is illegal to run a kitchen for preparing anything other than a few non-dairy bakery goods for sale in your home. That doesn’t mean you have to put out for the full expense of a commercial kitchen, instead, you can opt for a shared kitchen. In this option, you rent by the hour and it is likely to be the fastest and least expensive way of getting started. (Kitchens cost about $12-$25/hour in the Tampa Bay area as of April 2018, back when I was shopping for kitchens.) I recommend organizing your cooking days well to use as few hours as possible in the kitchen. Once you’ve found your niche, have a steady supply of orders and are growing, you’ll probably want your own kitchen as it can be less expensive on a larger scale. But to get started, a shared kitchen will have most of the equipment you will need and you can simply move in and start. After some time in a shared kitchen, you will probably have a much better idea of how you want your own kitchen to be and what equipment would be worth investing in.
- Ensure that the chef (or you if you will be doing the cooking) is legally certified to work in a commercial kitchen. https://www.servsafe.com/ServSafe-Manager offers an online course and great phone support but also offers live classes around the country. The link will take you to the correct certification needed for the person running your kitchen. (Other people who work in your kitchen under the chef will eventually need to get their own lesser certifications at the same site.)
- Get your kitchen inspected and legal for you to run. If you are renting a shared kitchen, hopefully, the kitchen itself has already passed inspection, so it is just a matter of your applying what you have learned in your course to ensure that your own items are correctly stored and you or your chef knows how to run a commercial kitchen.
For a meal prep business, if you are mostly delivering locally, you would come under the Department of Hotels and Restaurants. If you are mostly shipping your food, you would come under the Department of Agriculture. In Florida, if your business mostly serves your local community, you would set up at: https://www.myfloridalicense.com/intentions2.asp?chBoard=true&boardid=200 and apply for a Catering License.
- Once you have applied and paid for your license, you will get a call for your first inspection. In my experience, the Department of Hotels and Restaurants are pretty easy to work with. They always seem to find something to correct you on but their goal is to correct, not punish or close you down. Just be cooperative and they’ll do their inspection, show you what is wrong and depending on the severity, will either have to come back and reinspect or will allow you to correct on the spot. You should always do your best for an inspection as I’m sure there are things you could be shut down for but if your own personal standards of hygiene are high and you have studied the ServSafe course properly, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. I’ve heard different accounts of the Department of Agriculture. Some say their inspections are horrific, with them swabbing your countertops and sending the swabs to their labs to culture but I have a friend who is meticulously clean anyway and says they are no problem at all. I don’t personally have any experience with the Department of Agriculture.
- Get yourself a business license in the city in which you are operating.
- Before you open, you will need insurance for both you and the kitchen you are renting from (if you are using a shared kitchen. The cost is typically between $50 and $100/month and covers about $500,000 in liability.
- Consider your business structure: My accountant recommended that I hold my business in a corporation or LLC as further protection against a lawsuit, as there can be problems with food and being sued if anyone gets sick. I personally created a C-Corp online and then applied to the IRS to have it turned into an S-Corp for tax reasons, but definitely check with your attorney or accountant. Note: an LLC or corporation is extremely easy to create yourself online and you probably won’t need to use a service to set one up. Just don’t forget to renew each year, so it will suddenly become very expensive to recover once it has expired).
That’s about it!
If this seems like a lot, it’s actually quite easy if you’re serious about your meal prep delivery business. There are a lot of services that can help out for a fee, or you can look through the different Facebook groups and forums for advice as well. The meal prep community is a great and helpful group that’s excited and willing to share their knowledge and experience.
Starting a meal prep delivery business is a wonderful and exciting endeavor, just be sure to take it slow and keep your costs down until you’re ready to hit that next stage. And of course, we’ll be here to help guide you along the way.