Profile of a Caterer
A caterer is a chef who provides food services at a third party site, such as a wedding venue, function hall, meetings or other events. Caterers work for restaurants, food service companies and are frequently stand-alone, independent organizations (self-employed).
Caterers’ duties run the gamut and are very similar to those of a chef-owner of a restaurant. Catering chefs are responsible for every aspect of food provisioning and service for their clients, and it may include securing additional items such as licensing or permits, staffing and providing bar service and some full service caterers even often specialty items such as wedding cakes, ice and chocolate sculptures or even fountains.
A catering manager is responsible for assisting their client in planning an event from layout to food and drink selections, and may include directing clients to additional contractors such as photographers, disc jockeys or musicians or wedding planners. Some catering managers even offer one-stop-shopping, and will book these services on behalf of their clients.
Caterers are in charge of all food and beverage service for the venue. This may include prepping and decorating the room or hall, setup and place settings and even centerpieces and floral arrangements. Very often, the caterer will have a front of house manager, as well as a back of house (kitchen) manager. Each manager is accountable for each of their areas and the coordinating function of each, but the caterer is at the helm of each project.
The caterer works with both front end and kitchen managers to prepare the client-driven menu that adheres to the budget. Typically caterers will hold a tasting to allow a client to sample potential menu items, in order to make the best choice. The chef would normally attend the tasting, to be able to answer questions from the customer and offer selection advice and recommendations.
To be a caterer, there is no special degree required, although it is recommended that you have culinary training. In addition, business education is highly desirable – especially for budgeting, accounting and management tools. Math skills are important as well as solid people skills and patience. Individuals interested in becoming catering managers or owners should research the specific guidelines for their state. A catering license is required in many states and often you will need a permit for venue specific events. In addition, if you are serving alcohol – special considerations, permits and licensing must occur. All events must adhere to strict code enforcement and capacity requirements, and are often inspected by the local fire departments and code enforcement officers prior to the event start.
In addition to customer service skills, the caterer is also responsible for the daily operations of the catering facility itself. They hire and train new staff (often temporary), and schedule staff for events by matching personalities to venue and client needs. Some staff are more outgoing and approachable, while others are reserved and work best in more classical scenarios. Different employees have different skillsets, and in some cases (such as the serving of alcohol), certification and licensing may be required for certain duties.
The caterer is also compelled to manage the food products for each project, including any carry over inventory. Some caterers maintain a large inventory of dishes, cutlery, glasses and linens as well that need to be laundered and pressed before service. Equipment should be clean and well maintained at all times, and the kitchen should always utilize proper cleanliness and sanitation methods. The caterer is the core person responsible for maintaining the health and safety of not only the customers, but also all of the staff.
Caterers will often attend fairs and conferences to evaluate new and different suppliers of everything from paper and office products to new kitchen equipment and delivery methods. Comparing value, benefit and cost is often a skill caterers must exercise regularly, as well as thinking quickly and resolving issues calmly. For caterer-owners, it often involves long hours and lots of stress. Because it involves significant planning, organization and the ability to think ahead are a basic requirement. In addition, because you work closely with your client, any deviation can result in an angry or upset client.
Catering managers can typically expect a salary if around $30,000 to begin if they have some experience managing. With significant experience in catering management (10 years or more), catering managers can expect to make more than $50,000 annually. These numbers vary greatly depending on the type of business, location and the experience of the manager. Projected job growth through 2022 is about 5% growth.
Catering owners are very different. Because they are self-employed, they are responsible for payroll, overhead and production and maintenance costs as well. Because the startup costs are high, very often caterers will work as managers of other venues prior to developing and launching their own business.