Whenever I play/try to render an animation with cloth simulation active it bounces for a second before settling down. Is there a way to effectively start rendering the animation from a point where it has settled and reacts to the models movement normally? The only thing I can think of is to add a couple of seconds to the animation before it starts to give it time to settle but that would increase the render time significantly.
You are right with the idea of starting the simulation before the start of the animation so that the first rendered frame uses a stationary version of the cloth.
Note that this will have no effect on your render times, the simulation only needs to be baked once before you start rendering and the cached results are then used during render.