If you have a passion for culinary arts and tasty food, then a career in catering can be an exciting opportunity for you! In this article, you will find valuable insight into how to become a caterer, including necessary experience, training and salary expectations. We also include the best resume-building tools for your overall success.
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What does a Caterer Do?
A caterer prepares food and develops customized menus for social events. They are also responsible for transporting and serving the food, and cleanup.
Caterers monitor the adequacy of food preparation and presentation, based on the client's requests. They often work with hosts to create a menu for special events like weddings, anniversary parties or corporate meetings. Whether a venue is for 10 guests or 100, the caterer makes sure that all hot dishes are hot and delicious by prepping them at the event's location.
Some common caterer duties and responsibilities include:
Meeting with clients to plan and coordinate the upcoming menu, specifications and guest dietary requirements.
Replenishing food when plates or buffets are empty.
Ensuring food is safe and clean and heated if need be.
Cleaning up after a catered event.
Returning equipment to designated storages in compliance with event standards and instructions.
Creating contracts per event.
Sourcing ingredients and inventory for the meal plan.
Preparing, delivering and serving food at events.
Ensures the quality, temperature and presentation are accurate through mobile cooking stations.
How Do You Become a Caterer?
Demand for caterers is increasing faster than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 15% growth for the position through 2031. The average annual is $50,160. To become a caterer and compete in today’s job market, you must demonstrate culinary experience, knowledge and expertise. Let’s discuss the most important steps to becoming a successful caterer.
Although attending culinary school can optimize your career, you don’t need a specific education to become a caterer. There are community colleges or culinary vocational programs that offer classes or associate degrees. These include culinary arts, event planning, marketing and other business management fields.
You can consider certifications to maximize your potential. Caterer certification is a form of qualification to demonstrate a caterer's level of knowledge and expertise. Check out this list of nationally recognized programs that are distinguished for their excellence for catering and event professionals:
- The Certified Professional in Catering and Events (CPCE) from the National Association for Catering & Events
- Catering Associate Certification (CCA) by the National Career Association Board
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA 30)
- Certified Executive Chef (CEC) awarded by the American Culinary Federation
- Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) offered by the International Live Events Association
- Certified Dietary Manager (CDM) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
For hands-on experience, you can sign up for apprenticeships or internships. This creates the opportunity to work with a mentor. Check with your nearest vocational or culinary schools and certification organizations. For apprenticeship, you can search the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education or on Caterer.com for the latest opportunities.
Create a job-winning resume:
Demonstrate your skill set and qualifications and provide assurance that the caterer is competent in food safety and sanitation procedures. Here we feature interactive tools such as our Resume Builder, with pre-written, job-specific content to sell your most marketable traits. Check out our latest caterer resume samples to help you create a professional resume in just minutes.
Catering is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food service industry. Being a caterer means having a good knowledge of food and how to prepare and pair it.
To succeed in this highly competitive arena, you need culinary expertise and a wide range of business skills. A caterer must have excellent time management skills, as wrong timing can ruin food and its presentation.
Keeping clients happy is the most important aspect of the job, a caterer must know how to work with the public. In addition, since many caterers run their own businesses, they must know how to spend countless hours working at night, on weekends and during holidays. They also must have experience planning and preparing menus.
Other key caterer skills include:
Have a passion for cooking and entertaining.
Ability to read and understand instructions made by the host.
Ability to respond to complaints
Proficiency in math to measure ingredients and to assign billing for services rendered
Insights from a Caterer
In order to get an inside look at how to become a caterer, we talked to Olivia Colt, who owns Salt & Honey Catering in Berkley, California. Here’s what she had to tell us.
What is the common career path for a caterer?
A person who goes into catering usually does so because they have a passion for cooking and entertaining. I wanted to cook. So, like many who start in the business, I started by hosting small dinner parties and catering lunches to two local startups nearby. Ironically, we have grown so much that I now have an executive chef and sous-chefs, but I am still happily in the food business.
Others come to the business from the culinary world, usually after culinary school, or after having worked in restaurants.
What should someone consider before becoming a caterer?
That you are not going to have a life. For the first 3-5 years and maybe more like 10 years you will work long hours of physical labor, standing on your feet. While your product is glamorous, the work is not. It’s also a male-dominated field, and you’ll have to have a strong ego to stand up them. You need to have a passion for the business and an unwavering belief in yourself. This job is hard.
Capital – this is a cash in, cash out business. If I were to do it all over again, I would have started with a nest egg or a small business loan to tide me over my cash flow. Catering is an expensive business. Your products are highly perishable (food) and prices can vary greatly throughout the year. For instance, during the holidays, sugar and butter go through the roof.
What type of person excels in this job?
A person who connects: This business leans heavily on relationships—with your venues, food purveyors and artisans, and, of course, clients. Developing relationships with your vendors can help you get better pricing, better payment terms, and the best quality ingredients and service. Clients are trusting you with some of the biggest moments of their lives, so you have to be able to understand their needs and deliver on your promises. And as I said before, you have to have a passion for the business.
What are some of the most important skills for a caterer to have?
This is not a profession for the faint of heart. You will have to work in the trenches for a long time before you are successful, so you have to have a long vision. Most food businesses fail — up to 80 percent in the first few years.
Also, you have to believe in yourself. Never undercut your prices. Each job should be profitable. So be willing to walk away from a prospective job if they try to undercut your prices. I used to panic if my calendar wasn’t full, but I have learned over time that work always comes through and the calendar always fills up. Don’t panic.
Be a good employer. Turnover in the food industry is huge, but you rely on your staff. Your employees work hard so you need to compensate them financially, as well as offer incentives — allowing them to development professionally and giving them opportunities to grow in their jobs. Beyond that, in the San Francisco Bay Area we are competing against other deep-pocket employers so you need to treat your employees like a Fortune 500 does, and provide health, retirement and vacation benefits.
Deal with stress. Our work is fun, but it’s stressful. You need to plan for things to go wrong so everything can go right. Also, clients are demanding and want everything on budget. Our goal is to always surpass their expectations.
Time management. You need to be great at delivering a product on time, and all the planning that goes into that. Enough said! Flexibility — be open to constructive criticism, leave your ego at the door because you need to respond to the clients’ wishes, not yours. Humility. Be open to suggestions and constructive criticism. Level-headed — you need to be able to communicate without being rash. Temperatures are high (literally) in the kitchen, so maintain your cool under pressure, with staff and guests. Leadership — be able to command and lead a team. Be able to sell: You are the face of the business, no matter how many people work for you. Know what your niche is, and be able to deliver a succinct elevator speech. You always have to be selling, so make sure your website, social media and presentation show you off to your best advantage.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a caterer?
Learning completely different skill sets. To be in business and to see it grow and evolve. Helping people learn and grow their own skill set. Always invest in your team and reward them for a good job. We had two dishwashers who had a passion for food. Our executive chef trained them to be sous-chefs, and you couldn’t find more loyal employees. Gratification for a job well done. It may take months to prepare and plan and event, but in 10-15 hours it is done and it’s always fun to see what you can create. And, drumroll, the most satisfying part of the job is to hear that your client was thrilled with your work, and that you were part of someone’s celebration and you helped make it special.
How Much Do Caterers Get Paid?
The median annual salary for caterers in the United States is $48,000. The lowest paid Caterers make about $30,500, while the highest paid can earn more than $80.000.
Top 10 States for Caterer Salaries
Caterers in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.
We put together this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring a career as a caterer.
The National Association for Catering and Events (NACE)
A non-profit national organization that provides education, certification and a network of resources for members in all segments of the hospitality industry.
International Caterers Association (ICA)
An association dedicated to educating and raising the level of awareness about the catering industry.
Event Planner Association (EPA)
An educator and source of ethical, reliable, and competent business professionals for hire in the event planning and amusement industries. These businesses include professional meeting planners, event and wedding planners, inflatable games and amusement rental companies, florists, caterers, DJ’s, entertainers, venues and more.
Offers a one-stop shopping site for all food service supplies directed toward the professional chef, the caterer or the special home party.Kinyarda Wright, CEO at
Around The Clock Catering & Craft Services
Catering company for the motion picture industry. 2015 clients include HBO, Nickelodeon, Victoria Secrets, Walt Disney and the Weinstein Company.
The Professional Caterer's Handbook: How to Open and Operate a Financially Successful Catering Business
A comprehensive book on how to plan, start and operate a successful catering operation.
Catering: A Guide to Managing a Successful Business Operation
The author teamed up with the Culinary Institute of America to create this indispensable guide, a look at everything you need to set up and run a profitable catering business.
Secrets From a Caterer’s Kitchen
A comprehensive, accessible and easy-to-use book that offers insider tips and guidance about caterers.