Are you a foodie looking for a way to make a bit of extra cash on the side? Do you like meeting new people?
Well, the good news is there are many ways to turn your favourite hobby into a thriving business! One of the most exciting to pop up onto our radar recently, is to start a supper club of your own.
With their roots in the cabaret culture of the 1930s and ’40s, supper clubs are experiencing a revival as affordable alternatives to fancy restaurants and opportunities for diners to connect more authentically.
Read on for the MoneyMagpie guide to starting your own supper club from home.
Basically, a supper club – also know as an underground- or secret restaurant – is an eatery that you set up in your home.
You cook for as many guests as arrive and, traditionally, 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 supper clubs started off as a cheap way to dine out in the recession, but also because there are a number of rules and technicalities around commercial food preparation in a domestic kitchen, which supper clubs help you bypass.
The rules are – in short – rather complicated, all hinging on how long you’re running your supper club for and whether it’s casual or formal.
Should I register my supper club?
The law says that you don’t need to register as a ‘food premises’ if you run your business for less than five days in five consecutive weeks.
So, if you throw four supper club evenings over a period of two months, you don’t need to register with your local council.
If, however, you are hosting two supper club 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!
Should you have to register, you’ll need to fill in a short form giving the following details:
- the business’ name
- where it is registered
- the name of the proprietor and manager
- what your business handles.
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 supper club restaurateurs get around the problem by telling guests to burst into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ should they receive an unexpected visit from food safety officers.
While this definitely evokes the excitement of a 1920s speakeasy, here at MoneyMagpie we advise you to rather register if you are required to.
If in doubt, always check. Better safe than sorry!
Whether you need to register your supper club or not, visit the Food Standards Agency website for useful tips and information. They’ve got links to different Food Safety Acts as well as a downloadable guide to starting up a food business.
Up until now, the supper club business has been, well, secretive. And in many cases it still remains this way.
Individual front room restaurateurs typically publicise their undertakings through personal websites, social media sites -like Facebook and Twitter – and, of course, word-of-mouth. They normally take bookings over over email and payment (or ‘donations’) can either be made on the night or through websites using a secure system.
If you like organising your own business from start to finish, this is still a perfectly good method of setting up a supper club.
Food sharing websites
However, if you’re feeling a little unsure about all the admin related to dedicated websites, social media presences and payment systems, you may want to test the waters by using a ‘food sharing’ site to start off with:
Here are a few popular options:
- EatWith – a website offering users an easy way to access the underground food scene and connect with creative, open-minded and interesting people.
- BonAppetour – a community marketplace that connects travellers with local home chefs for a unique home-dining experience, anywhere around the world.
- VizEat – also geared specifically toward travellers, the site helps foodies share a meal or experience a cooking class with a local host.
- Feastly – a home for unique dining events with chefs who possess exceptional culinary talents – whether they’re a great home cook or Michelin starred. The site has not launched in the UK yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye on for the future.
It really depends.
Established secret supper clubs can charge between £30 and £50 a head, while well-known chefs could charge even more.
A good example of this is chef Nuno Mendez’s The Loft Project. Between June 2009 and October 2011, Mendez opened his East London apartment to diners, charging £100 per head for a 12 course tasting menu.
Generally speaking, however, you’ll have to take the following into account:
- How many people are coming: obviously, the more people you’re catering for, the more money you can make.
- 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 centre piece.
- 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, while others 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!
- 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. If, however, you’re an enthusiastic amateur it’s a good idea 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.
- Your profit margin – this is the bit that many keen cooks forget. It’s one thing to provide fabulous meals in a great setting but if you spend all the money on the food and accessories you will have no profit and it just becomes a hobby rather than a business. Be careful what you spend on and how large your portions are. If necessary, go and see some restaurateurs (ideally not in your area – don’t let them know you’re competition) and ask them how they make their money.
So, making money from your supper club depends largely on what you make of it and how businesslike you are.
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.
Case study: The Secret Supper Society
For further inspiration, we popped a few questions off to Jules Thomas from The Secret Supper Society in north Oxfordshire about her experiences of starting and running her own supper club.
This is what she had to say:
I would suggest starting with friends and then it’s all word of mouth a social media from there.
Cook in the style you are most comfortable with and remember front-of-house is just as important as the food. Guests come for a new experience and may be nervous, so it’s up to us to help relax them.