My mother started her carinderia business last 2005 in our province in Negros Occidental. The place was great since it is near the school and government offices and just beside the hiway. But very few people really go out for lunch/dinner. Sa probinsya mas uso yung magbaon na lg cla. And house are just one tricycle ride away. No traffic. They can just go home for lunch. That's why there are very few carinderias around. We see this as a problem. We just believed that my mother is really a great cook. It has been proven again and again that people loves her cooking. And with our trust in God's grace, we decided to go ahead with the plan.
We had a rough start. The initial capital was more that 150K for the rent, the utensils, table/chairs and food. We have to borrow money to start the carinderia. The first 6 months was a real struggle. There are months that were really great especially during the town fiesta on April. But once the school days started, there were very few customers coming in. It would peak again during the "ber" months. Then it started to improve after more than a year. Today, it is more stable and I think on its way to be sustaining.
Just some learnings
1. Network with people. Our biggest customers are those working in the government offices, teachers and church members. They are the ones who would call us up for bulk orders up to 200 heads. That's a big deal already even at 80pesos per head for a packed lunch. Today, we are their first stop for bulk orders.
2. I think ts important to know what the people loves to eat in that particular area. Recreate/introduce new menus with caution. In the province, not everybody loves a new dish. They would stick to the usual filipino fuds. Lutong bahay talaga. They even want "sabaw" in a packed lunch. Fried chicken and rice is not a big hit in our place. Our best sellers are cansi (It's a close counterpart of bulalo in Luzon), chicken inasal and anything with vegetables. Introduce a pesto pasta and it will just rot away.
3. Go with the season. Always have halo-halo on summer. Batchoy during rainy seasons. Burgers, sandwich and pasta when there is school. Add brownies/revel bars during December.
4. As much as possible, just have a few people involved with managing the business. Its good to have a partner or several of them. But it can be as tragic. An irony is that its even more tragic when a relative is involved. It's better to own the business yourself. Loan some money from people and pay them even with interest rather than get them directly involved with the business. I know a lot of sad stories within the family about business partnerships.
5. Hands-on with the business. Maybe this is why the first 6-12 months was hell. My mother has to manage everything from being the cook, buyer of ingredients, cashier, waitress, accountant, and manager. Just imagine how troublesome that can be. She can barley take a rest. But i think it was helpful. Later she started defining tasks that can be transferred to our hired people. And papa was given tasks little by little. At least now, mama knows all the tricks in the trade. With exception to the cashier and management, she effectively gave off the load little by little.
6. Lessen expenses. They used to commute everyday from our house to the carinderia. They pay the tricycle driver to pick them up. Now, papa made a small room, attic style in the carinderia. Crampy place but it reduce some cost. It even added some convinience since they can take a quick nap/siesta when there are few customers. They dont have to wake up very early to get ready for work. Added benefit when it comes to health.
7. Explore new oppurtunities. We get a minimum of 2 bulk order a month. Now we are starting to think of having a catering business. She saw the potential during weddings and proms. There is a big need in our place since there is no fast food chain and no big restaurants nearby. People would have to go to the city for big bookings. We hope to start the business by November. Our estimated capital is about 500 per head. So if we want to cater up to 200 people, we need to have an initial capital of another 100,000 for the equipments alone. We're saving for it. 200 people is even a modest estimate if you want to cater for high school proms.
8. Finally, I also read that being a great cook doesnt necessary mean a success in the food business. It requires more than cooking skills. You need business. marketing and communication skills. Also, dont forget the four M's in the food business. Masarap, mabilis, malinis at mura (oops, im not sure with the last one).
Good thing we persevered. We almost gave up when we cant come up with the capital and the first 6 months sales was very unpredictable. Mama even got sick. But the efforts are now paying off. After the challenges, the rewards are great. Hope this inspires you to reach for you dreams.