Becoming a Caterer: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a caterer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a caterer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Caterer

If you love to cook and enjoy planning events, a career as a caterer might be your calling. Many caterers are formally trained in the culinary arts and/or have a certificate in catering management. They also may need to be licensed by their state in order to provide services. Read more about the pros and cons of this career below.

Pros of a Career as a Caterer
Flexible work schedule may allow for part- or full-time employment*
Good career choice for those wishing to be self-employed*
Each catering event is unique*
Possibility to work out of your own home*

Cons of a Career as a Caterer
Start-up costs can be high (estimated at $10,000 or more)*
Many caterers work long hours and weekends*
Can be a high-pressure role when working with demanding clients*
Can require a great deal of stamina*

Source: *University of Minnesota 'Catering Successfully'

Career Info

Job Description and Responsibilities

Caterers can be self-employed or work for catering businesses or large corporations. They might work on- or off-site to provide food services for their clients. Caterers help clients plan menus in addition to preparing food and beverages and participating in the physical set-up of catering events. Additionally, some caterers serve in managerial roles, hiring, training and managing staff and seeking new clientele.

It is essential that caterers observe hygienic protocols when preparing and serving foods to avoid causing illness. Ignoring health and safety standards could result in lawsuits and loss of business.

Salary

According to July 2015 data from PayScale.com, most caterers earned an hourly rate of $8-$20, while most catering managers earned from $28,746-$54,789 a year. Caterers who work for large corporations might enjoy benefits such as dental and medical insurance, paid time-off and contributions to a retirement plan, benefits that aren't always accessible or affordable to self-employed caterers.

Professional Skills

Although postsecondary education isn't always needed for catering positions, many prospective caterers earn a certificate or associate's degree in catering or culinary arts. These programs often incorporate an internship to give students experience. For those looking to start their own businesses, familiarity with legal contracts and sales can be beneficial. Caterers must meet any licensure requirements set by their state, and they must ensure that their insurance is up to date.

To help with networking and continuing education, caterers might choose to join a professional organization, such as the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE). These organizations might offer professional certifications that can help bolster a caterer's reputation. For example, NACE awards the Certified Professional Catering Executive credential to qualified candidates who pass the necessary exams.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Catering companies and corporations typically seek catering staff who have some postsecondary education, such as an associate's degree, in addition to catering experience. Jobs ranging from catering chefs to managers, as well as positions for those who could double as sales associates, were among those advertised for online in April 2011. Following is a sampling of actual job posts from that time.

  • A catering company in Illinois was looking to hire a part time sous chef. Candidates needed a culinary arts degree and had to be willing to work long hours.
  • In Wisconsin, a corporation sought a catering manager to work in its food service department. Applicants needed at least five years of experience in catering and management as well as strong business acumen. They also needed an associate's degree and references.
  • A catering company in Chicago advertised for a catering manager with at least two years of experience in catering to supervise an off-site department. Candidates needed computer and communication skills and knowledge of restaurant operations.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

For self-employed caterers, it's important that your services and pricing remain competitive to attract potential clients. Some caterers find a niche, such as weddings or pastries, and attract clients due to their specialization. Self-employed caterers should have exceptional marketing and business skills to stay ahead of the competition. For example, some caterers develop sample menus and attractive brochures to present to potential clients and offer a flavor of the services they can provide.

Develop Managerial Skills

Those working for large catering companies often find advancement potential if they're interested in becoming catering managers or supervisors. These positions require an individual who can reach beyond cooking and event planning. While not a complete list, employers often look for skills in the following areas:

  • Team-building
  • Computers
  • Communications
  • Bookkeeping
  • Attention to detail

Other Careers to Consider

If you love event planning but would prefer a job that does not involve preparing food, you might consider working as a meeting, convention or event planner. These professionals coordinate services like food and beverages, lodging and transportation for meetings and other events, such as weddings and educational conferences. The BLS reports that most employers prefer to hire event planners with a bachelor's degree in event or hospitality management or a related field, but the higher education requirement could be worth it. The BLS projected a 44% increase in jobs for meeting, convention and event planners from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, these professionals earned a median annual salary of approximately $46,000.

If you'd still like to cook but would prefer to work in the same venue each day, you might consider a job as a chef or head cook at a restaurant. In addition to developing recipes and planning menus, these professionals typically oversee a team of cooks and food prep workers. While these jobs don't always require formal education, the BLS reports that an increasing number of chefs and head cooks have completed training through a culinary school or 2- or 4-year college. Though the job outlook for this career is well below average (the BLS projected a 1% decline in positions from 2010-2020), chefs and head cooks made a median hourly wage of more than $20 as of May 2011, which was higher than the wage reported for caterers.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • MS in Food Safety Regulation
      • MS in Food Safety Regulation
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Management
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Operations Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • High School with Culinary Arts Professional Pathway
    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Missoula, MT

    The University of Montana

  • Big Rapids, MI

    Ferris State University

  • Chula Vista, CA

    Southwestern College

  • Online Programs Available
    7. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Caterer
      • Certificate - Gourmet Cooking

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • MS in Food Safety Regulation

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Management
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Operations Management

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Penn Foster High School

  • High School with Culinary Arts Professional Pathway
  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Southwestern College

Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma - Caterer
  • Certificate - Gourmet Cooking

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