How to Become a Caterer
Does a job as a Caterer sound like it’s right up your alley? If so, keep reading this guide for helpful information you need to know about becoming a caterer, including necessary experience, training and more.
What does a Caterer Do?
A Caterer is someone who arranges the delivery, preparation and presentation of food for parties, galas, conventions and weddings, to name a few. Any event that requires drinks and food, even if the food is only hors d’oeuvres, is referred in the industry to be a catered affair. Caterers are cooks—or food preps—who make sizeable amounts of food for their clients. They buy the food, prep it, and move it to wherever the venue is located. They often work with a host to create a menu. Whether a venue is for 10 guests or 100, the caterer makes sure that all hot dishes are hot and delicious by prepping it at the location of the event.
Some common Caterer duties and responsibilities include:
- Serving food
- 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.
Catering is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food service industry. Being a caterer means having a good knowledge of food, both how to prepare it and how to pair it. To succeed in this highly competitive arena, you need not only culinary expertise, but also a wide range of business skills. First, the caterer must have excellent time management skills, as wrong timing can ruin food and its presentation. Second, you need to know how to balance your expenses and how to buy the freshest food ingredients possible. Third, you need to know how to communicate in order to keep talent and staff running smoothly. You also need to work closely with the host or customer for a catered event.
Fourth, you need to know how to manage stress and maintain accuracy in the kitchen in a fast-paced environment. Caterers also must be pleasant and efficient. Fifth, because 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 business, 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.
- Experience catering in the past
- Ability to read and understand instructions made by the host
- Ability to respond to complaints
- Proficiency to do arithmetic to measure ingredients and to assign billing for services rendered
How Do You Become a Caterer
Education and Training
You don’t need a specific education to become a caterer – although attending culinary school helps. A caterer must have a food safety certification, which can be achieved online. The certification teaches students about proper food storage, food-borne illnesses, hygiene, pest control and sanitization. In some cases, a certificate is achieved by passing an examination. The best education and training is having hands-on experience working in the food industry. Being a server at a restaurant or in another role in the food service industry will prepare you on your quest to becoming a caterer. Being an apprentice will also help. During this apprentice time, which often lasts from six months to three years, a candidate will be able to understand cooking techniques, tools, equipment and food safety, as well as how to bake and advanced cooking techniques.
Finding a Job
Demand for caterers is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 9 percent growth for the position through 2024. The faster-than-average growth for the profession is being driven primarily by customers who want to hire a caterer for those special moments or affairs.
In addition, caterers can find jobs in the hospitality sector, such as planning milestone events.
Any successful job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at JobHero’s library of caterer resume samples.
Once your resume is complete, search online for job opportunities. As you look for caterer openings, be sure to make the most of your professional network, including people you met in your profession, or anyone you know in the hospitality industry.
When applying for jobs, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you would bring to the role. Take a look at our sample cover letters for inspiration.
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.
- Rhode Island: $32.85
- New Jersey: $32.31
- New York: $30.75
- Virginia: $27.06
- Nevada: $30.45
- Delaware: $28.71
- District of Columbia: $28.71
- Florida: $27.11
- Pennsylvania: $26.87
- Maryland: $27.34
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.
Caterer’s Warehouse– 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.
The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.