Are you a foodie looking for a way to make a bit on the side? Do you like meeting new people? You could be making money from your cooking hobby with an at-home supperclub. With conservative estimates putting the number of secret supperclubs at 168 – up from 20 last year – you could be on your way to cooking up a nice little profit. Read on for the Moneymagpie guide to starting your own from home.
Basically, a supperclub – or underground restaurant, or secret restaurant as they’re sometimes called – is a restaurant that you set up in your home. You cook for as many guests as arrive, and they leave you a “suggested donation” to cover your costs and – maybe – make a bit of money. It’s a bit like “Come Dine With Me” on a larger scale, but without the film crew or sarcastic voiceover.
If you haven’t come across them before, there’s a clue in the name – they’re ‘secret’ and ‘underground’. This is partly because supperclubs started off as a cheap way to dine out in the recession, but also because there are a number of rules and technicalities to do with food preparation in a domestic kitchen which you then go on to sell.
The rules about what you can do are quite complicated. It all hinges on how long you’re running your supperclub for and whether you want it to be a casual or formal arrangement.
The law says that you don’t need to register as a ‘food premises’ if you run your food business for less than five days in five consecutive weeks. So, if you throw four supperclub evenings over a period of two months you don’t need to register with your local council as a food business. If, however, you are hosting two supperclub nights a week you should get in touch with your local council to ask for a food premises registration form. Registering your kitchen is free so there’s no reason to not do it!
If you have to register, you’ll have to fill in a short form giving details of what the business is called, where it is registered, the name of the proprietor and manager and what your business handles. You can find an example form if you need a clearer idea of what the form asks – you should ask your local council for their particular registration form.
Some people don’t register their food business because they don’t know they have to, they think they can ‘do it later’ or actively decide that registering would spoil the underground, ‘edgy’ feel of the restaurant in their living room. Some secret supperclub restaurateurs get around the problem by telling guests to burst into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ should the supperclub receive an unexpected visit from food safety officers. While this definitely evokes the excitement of a 1920s speakeasy, here at Moneymagpie we advise that you register if you are required to – and if in doubt, always check. Better to be safe than sorry.
Even if you don’t need to register your business you should still have a look at the food preparation guidelines on the Food Standards Agency: tips like how to store food properly and how to carry out hygiene checks are always useful to be aware of. They’ve got links to different Food Safety Acts as well as a downloadable guide to starting up a food business.
Again, up until now the supperclub business has been, well, secretive. Individual front room restaurateurs have publicised their undertakings through personal websites, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and by word-of-mouth through friends and family. Bookings are taken over email, with payment (or ‘donations’) given either on the night or through websites using a secure payment system.
This looks like changing however, as people are cottoning on to the potential of the supperclub scene. Housebites is a forthcoming website which aims to make the underground supperclub more mainstream, without compromising the fun and intimacy of the front room dining experience. Housebites founder, Simon Prockter, says his brand new site is all about ‘facilitating a new dining experience’.
‘It’s about fostering a social hub as much as anything else,’ he said. ‘For example, if my friend Paul has just moved to a new area, doesn’t know many people but would like to start meeting some, Housebites can help. He can look for dinner parties in his area, or advertise a party he’s hosting.’
Under the Housebites system, inexperienced hosts can charge around £25 a head to cover costs, although experienced hosts can charge more. In time you’ll also be able to hire a hygiene-trained chef from them, you can then charge as much as you want. If you want to go to a dinner party you can buy credits from them at £1 per credit: you go to the party and Housebites transfers your credits to the host. There’s a ratings system where guests can score and comment on a host’s evening which also works as a quality control feed: if lots of people point out the same problem with a particular host or evening, Housebites will investigate.
The truth is that it depends. Established secret supperclubs can charge between £30 and £50 a head while chef Nuno Mendez charges £100 per head for a 12 course tasting menu at his home supperclub. Generally speaking, you’ll need to take into account these things:
- How many people are coming: obviously, the more people you’re catering for the more money you can make. Your costs should be lower for more people too as you can buy in bulk and negotiate a lower price from your suppliers.
- What you’re cooking: will you serve a set meal or will there be options for guests to pick from? Is wine included? Remember that vegetarian and vegan dishes are usually cheaper than a prime steak centrepiece.
- Your unique selling point – are you famous for your adventurous dishes and unique cooking style? Or is your traditional fare the talk of the town? Some restaurateurs offer themed nights or pride themselves on an entirely organic, responsibly sourced menu. Whatever you offer that no-one else can, make the most of it to get people talking about your parties.
- How good you are: simple but true, people will come back for seconds, thirds and beyond if you’re a good cook. If you’re a professional chef this might not be such a big factor, but if you’re an enthusiastic amateur you might do well to start off with something tried and tested – remember those cookery shows where simple but good food wins out over experimental dishes. This is especially important if you’re working on a ‘donations’ basis where people pay what they think the meal is worth.
So making money from your supperclub depends largely on what you make of it. On a small scale it’s unlikely to make you a fortune but could be a good way of meeting people while making a little extra cash. If you’re more dedicated however, you could be onto a good earner.