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Catering Cook Duties and Responsibilities

Cooking and Food Preparation The primary role of a catering cook is to prepare food for events according to client needs. The catering cook is responsible for preparing food, either in an on- or off-site kitchen, and cooking a variety of dishes. This is the most important part of a catering cook's job and requires a high level of familiarity with cooking skills and techniques, the ability to season and prepare food according to client specifications, and the ability to work under pressure to ensure that appetizers, entrees, and desserts arrive on time.

Purchasing and Transport Catering cooks are often tasked with purchasing ingredients and supplies and arranging for food transport to off-site events. This requires catering cooks to possess excellent budgeting and organization skills, since they will need to make several buying and logistical decisions. In some cases, catering cooks may also determine whether menu items can be prepared off-site and easily transported to the event itself.

Food Presentation A catering cook is also responsible for food presentation during an event. Depending on the specific event's needs, this can consist of plating individual dishes or buffet trays in an attractive, appetizing manner. Catering cooks also works with servers or other staff members on food presentation, determining how appetizers on passed trays should be presented, offered, and served to guests.

Menu Development Catering cooks play a key role in developing menus for special events, often in consultation with event planners or hosts. They should be comfortable with suggesting menu options, presenting food samples at the client's request, and working with clients to change menu items based on dietary restrictions or individual preferences.

Personnel Management Catering cooks are extremely collaborative, since they work with a team of kitchen staff and servers to deliver a high level of client service. Effective communication within the kitchen helps prevent delays and avoid mistakes that can impact service. Additionally, communicating with servers before and during an event can enhance guest experiences and foster a positive environment for both hosts and guests.


Catering Cook Skills and Qualifications

Catering cooks are flexible and energetic, able to balance multiple client demands and long days and evenings of preparation and cooking. Venues and catering companies tend to hire catering cooks with extensive kitchen experience, along with the following skills:
  • Food preparation - catering cooks need significant food preparation experience, so a background working as a prep cook or sous chef is ideal. Some catering chefs also have a type of food they specialize in
  • Food presentation - presenting appetizing and appealing food is a key talent for catering chefs. This helps give guests a positive dining experience and brings in repeated bookings
  • Organization and budgeting - many catering cooks are in charge of planning and purchasing for events, so a solid grasp of budgeting and a high level of organization are both vital
  • Menu development - catering cooks work directly with event planners and hosts to develop menus, so it's important to have experience with developing, presenting, and customizing menus for each event
  • Communication skills - communication is important for catering cooks whether they're dealing with clients, guests, or other event staff members before, during, and after an event
  • Team leadership - successful catering cooks are effective team leaders, able to direct kitchen staff and servers to deliver a high level of customer service

Catering Cook Education and Training

There is no formal education requirement to become a catering cook, but prior kitchen experience is essential. Catering cooks may begin at another station in the kitchen (such as prep cook) and work their way up to catering cook based on skill and performance. Some catering cooks do choose to attend culinary school, which teaches essential techniques and advanced kitchen skills. A culinary education can help catering cooks advance more quickly in their careers and find a higher-paid position in a kitchen.

Catering Cook Salary and Outlook

The median annual salary for a catering cook depends on several factors, including venue and the amount of experience that cook has. The median annual salary for cooks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $22,850 per year, with an hourly wage of $10.99. The lowest 10 percent earned under $8.47 per hour, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned $16.29 hourly. Head cooks are paid significantly more, with a median salary of $43,180 per year. There was a significant gap between the lowest-paid head chefs, making an average of $23,630, and the highest-paid, who earn about $76,280. Employment growth for cooks and head cooks is expected to grow at a rate of 6 to 10 percent by 2026.

Helpful Resources

If you're interested in learning more about working as a catering cook, we found several resources on the web for further reading and industry tips: Restaurant Schools: Catering - Read more about the duties and responsibilities of a catering cook.

Catering: A Guide to Managing a Successful Business Operation - Written by Bruce Mattel and published by the Culinary Institute of America, this book explores several facets of running a successful catering business.

"Chef's Resources: Health and Safety in Catering" - This blog post explores issues of health and safety for catering cooks, focusing on hazard and injury prevention and equipment maintenance.

Off-Premise Catering Management - Author Chris Thomas explores the unique challenges and opportunities presented by off-site catering.

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