How Do I Become a Professional Caterer?

Research what it takes to become a professional caterer. Learn about job outlook, salary and training requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Hotel & Restaurant Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does A Professional Caterer Do?

Professional caterers are responsible for food service in environments including to but not limited to hotels, restaurants, wedding receptions, and other special events. As part of their role, caterers must be able to think quickly, interact with customers and clients effectively, and organize food serving and cooking areas. Caterers typically get to their position by gaining experience in other kitchen roles. Continue reading for information about skills, potential earnings and employment outlook, as listed in the table.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent; postsecondary culinary arts training can be helpful
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Skills Time management, attention to detail, physical stamina, communication
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for chefs and head cooks)*
Median Annual Salary (2016) $33,766 (for all caterers)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Education or Training is Necessary for a Professional Caterer?

You don't typically need to meet any educational requirements to find work as a professional caterer. Some catering companies prefer to hire high school graduates, and those who serve liquor might only hire employees who are at least 18 years of age.

As a caterer, you gain most of your skills through on-the-job training. You learn to serve appetizers and meals, pour drinks, manage buffet tables and clear plates from a supervisor or team leader. Some community colleges and private organizations do offer certificate programs for aspiring caterers and catering chefs. These programs teach you the basics of cooking, baking, catering and serving.

What is the Job Description for a Professional Caterer?

As a professional caterer, you'll provide dining services to customers at remote locations. For example, you might travel with a staff of caterers to a reception hall, private residence or business establishment and provide food and beverages to customers and their guests. You also might be hired to work at weddings, business meetings, family reunions, banquets and conventions.

As an event caterer, you are responsible for setting up tables and chairs, preparing and cooking food, setting up a bar and serving patrons. You might be required to work with clients to plan a menu or create a specific atmosphere for an event.

You might also work as a boxed lunch caterer, in which you'll prepare foods to be dropped off at a particular location. In such a position, you'll cook and deliver meals, but you won't serve them to customers. Businesses often hire boxed lunch caterers to provide food for meetings and work parties.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

According to PayScale.com in 2016, caterers earned a median hourly wage of $11 per hour, which works out to a median annual salary of roughly $33,766.

What is the Outlook for the Industry?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies caterers as chefs and head cooks. This occupational group was forecast to have 9% job growth from 2014-2024, which was faster than average for all jobs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Bartenders and cooks both serve food and drinks to customers. While no formal education is necessary, many skills can be learned through formal training programs. Flight attendants and retail workers also have to have strong customer service skills and be fast on their feet. Flight attendants must have a high school diploma to enter the field, and they go through professional training programs leading to mandatory licensure. Prior work experience is typically valued as well. Retail staff do not need a formal degree.

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