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What Does a Caterer Do?

A caterer prepares, cooks, and presents food remotely, often for events. Read on to learn more about the skills, training, and licensing needed to become a caterer.

Career Overview

Caterers provide food service for functions like weddings, conferences, parties, and fund-raisers. Some caterers offer mobile catering services, which are operated out of vehicles or carts. Many professional caterers may work for a restaurant or private company, while others are self-employed.

It is a caterer's job to meet with clients, establish a menu, cook, present, and serve food and drinks at an event. Caterers often charge clients on a per-person basis. In addition to preparing the food, some full-service caterers also supply lighting and table setting to clients at an extra cost.

Important Facts About The Catering Profession

Median Salary (2021)$28,452 (for caterers)*
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 6% growth (for all chefs and head cooks)**
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or GED
On-the-job Training Mentorship working with an experienced chef, apprenticeship programs sponsored by culinary institutes, industry associations and trade unions

Sources: *Payscale.com and **U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

Duties and Responsibilities

Some caterers work full-time while others cater only part-time on weekends and evenings. Caterers often spend long hours on their feet and face pressure to meet deadlines. Caterers can work from a home kitchen or a facility that they own or rent. Sometimes a caterer needs to hire additional staff for production, service, and cleanup.

Aside from being able to make large amounts of client-specified food, a caterer must run and market their business. A caterer is responsible for:

  • Meeting with clients, developing and suggesting menus, and ordering supplies
  • Preparing, cooking, and serving food
  • Understanding and complying with safe food-handling practices
  • Establishing prices and cost per portion served
  • Drawing up contracts
  • Marketing the company and keeping business records

Licensing and Training

Caterers may choose to obtain training through a degree program in the culinary arts. These degree programs include banquet and catering courses. State laws often require caterers to obtain a business license and meet food service requirements. Caterers typically must apply for a license from a health department or other state regulatory agency. Such departments inspect catering businesses, issue licenses, and conduct routine business inspections.