Every couple of weeks for the last year, we have welcomed paying guests into our home. Emma, my wife, cooks us a delicious three-course meal. And we all sit around a table together, eating, drinking and chatting. What I have just described is a business known as a supper club. In this post, I look at what it takes to start a supper club.
Emma launched Emma’s Nomad Kitchen in September 2017 and it has been consistently sold out ever since. Every single event has been a success and we have nothing but good things to say about running a supper club. It was actually much easier than I expected to start a food-related business from your home, so let’s dive straight in.
When we started Emma’s Nomad Kitchen a lot our friends didn’t understand:
Why would anyone pay you to cook when they can go to a professional at a resturaunt?
People go to supper clubs for very different reasons and so passionate home cooks can compete with professionals by focusing on what they can’t.
Why do people go to supper clubs?
Supper clubs work because of the mix of a social environment, a unique experience and good food. And different people will care more about some parts than others.
Emma’s supper club is called Emma’s Nomad kitchen. It is every two to three weeks and each event features a surprise menu that Emma has devised from a different country we have visited on our travels. It is also a social occasion where everyone eats together (including us). A place to try new food and meet other local foodies.
It starts with a welcome drink and canapes in our living room, where we chat and get to know each other. Then it moves to the dining room and we all sit on one long table and enjoy a three-course meal. And finally ends with coffee and home-made truffles.
But you don’t need to follow that model. A supper club can be whatever you want. A medieval banquet, a gin tasting, a Mexican fiesta.
But before you get too excited, let’s talk about what are the actual requirements to start up a supper club.
Here in the UK, there isn’t too much you need to do in order to start a supper club from your home.
The most important thing, and a legal requirement, is that you must register your supper club with the local council. You can do it online here.
You should do this at least 28 days before you start your supper club. But if you have already begun and didn’t realise then let them know immediately. They are normally very understanding about honest mistakes!
Once registered, you will be inspected by the Food Standards Agency. They will come to your home, look at your kitchen, ask some questions and give you a food hygiene rating. Here is a good checklist to help get a good score.
By law, you need to ensure that anyone handling food for your supper club must be adequately trained in food hygiene, and that includes you. You will be asked about this during your visit from the Food Standards Agency.
The easiest way to prepare for the visit and make sure you are adequately trained is to go on a course and get a food hygiene certificate. Emma did a Level 2 course in Food Hygiene. You can go to a local training centre for it, or there are plenty of accredited centres that will let you take the course and exam online for about £25.
And that is all the legal requirements.
You can start a supper club as a sole trader. That means you don’t need to go to the hassle and reporting requirements around registering a business (more details on this post). You just add your earnings to your tax return each year.
And if you aren’t employing anyone you don’t need any insurance.
Although just because there isn’t a legal requirement, it may still be a good idea. The only insurance a business is legally required to have is employers’ liability cover. And you only need that if you are employing people.
But as your business involves inviting people into your home and cooking them homemade food, you may also want to get some other forms of insurance in case the worse happens. Public Liability Insurance is the main one as it protects you for interaction you have with public. If someone comes to your supper club, stubs their toe and sues you, public liability insurance will cover you.
You may also want to look at upgrading your building or content insurance in case a guest breaks something. Or at least you should check your current insurance policy to see if you are currently covered.
The only other thing to add is that if you want to start a supper club that serves alcohol, then there are extra requirements. You will need a personal alcohol license and then will need to purchase temporary events notices for every alcohol-related supper club you run. I recommend that at least to begin with you let your guests bring their own alcohol.
If you want to learn more you can see this post where I go through the difference licenses we need for our gin business.
Pricing & Profit
A supper club is never going to be a huge money maker. Think about it, you are having a handful of guests coming once every few weeks. In order to replicate a full-time income, you would need to either charge a fortune or hold clubs every day.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Emma’s supper club makes a nice little side income as well as opening the doors for other food and drink related opportunities.
Emma charges £30 a head and it is bring your own booze. She makes around 50% profit. So from 8 guests, she will earn about £120. She sells tickets of Eventbrite for a deposit of £10. And then guests pay the final £20 on the day. She could make a lot more because buys only local ingredients.
If you really want to make some extra money there are lots of extra creative ways to upsell. Such as: bottling and selling some sauce you use on the side. Offering cooking classes. Getting sponsored by a local company to recommend them. Or creating a recipe book and selling that.
You can even scale up and do pop up events in restaurants and cafes. Emma is currently planning a gin themed menu at a local place. Meaning she’ll be able to serve 20-30 people rather than the current 10.
How To Get Customers
Emma posts her Supper Clubs on Facebook, Meetup and Nextdoor. Particularly the second two are very good for getting in front of people looking for interesting events in their local area. Nextdoor is free, but she does have to pay for Meetup to create an event (currently $9.99 a month).
Emma almost always sells out just from posting the events on those apps. After all, she is only selling 8 tickets per event and has quite a few regulars.
But if she upped the number of supper clubs she runs then she might need to work a bit harder to get customers. Other supper clubs have a lot of success with Instagram and getting reviewed by local newspapers or bloggers.
For some extra inspiration, here is a great article about someone who started a fake supper club and managed to get it to the number 1 spot on Tripadvisor. If they can do that with a supper club that doesn’t exist, then you should be able to get plenty of customers for yours.
So, Should You Start A Supper Club?
If you are the sort of person who has been thinking about it for a while and really wants to start their own supper club but is perhaps a bit intimidated or worried then I say just go for it. It is probably much less scary than you’re expecting. We have had nothing but good experiences from running Emma’s Nomad Kitchen from our home.
We have also personally got a huge amount out of it. A bit of extra money, Emma has learned a lot about cooking, we have met some great people and have a bunch of new friends in our town, and it has helped us launch our gin business.
Isn’t it dangerous inviting strangers into your home?
We have never had any problems but I can see why it would be a worry to invite so many strangers into your home. It certainly helped that I was always there to support Emma. And if it is something you are nervous about then consider getting a friend to co-host with you for a bit of extra support.
Can You Sell Alcohol At Your Supper Club?
You need an alcohol license to sell alcohol. This can be a premises license which you are not going to be able to get for your home. But can also be done through a temporary events license. Where you pay a one-off cost to host a one-off event. Although you can only do a limited number in one location each year. You will also need a personal alcohol license. See this post where I go through the difference licenses we need for our gin business.
Do you have to eat with your guests?
No, not at all and in fact most supper club hosts don’t. But one of the reasons Emma wanted to start a supper club in the first place was so we could meet more people, so joining in is a big part for us.
Is this the same for starting other food businesses from your home?
It is mostly the same. If you wanted to start a business making ketchup from your home you would be faced with the exact same legal requirements. But depending on your product you may also need to include certain information on the packaging. One other difference is that if you are selling a packaged product you might also want to get product liability insurance.