Culinary Careers: Spotlight on Catering Directors
By Aimee Hosler
Caterers are the professionals behind some of life's most important events, from weddings to graduation parties to business meetings. Caterers must create meals that not only taste good but also look great. These seasoned professionals prepare gourmet meals on the go, often without the convenience of a full-service kitchen or state-of-the-art appliances.
What Does a Catering Director Do?
Sure, catering directors oversee an event's food service, but that's only the beginning. In fact, these professionals oversee virtually all aspects of an event, from planning to cleanup.
Typical Catering Director Job Duties
While specific duties often vary by position or work environment, there are a few duties most catering directors perform. These include:
- Event planning: Catering directors work with clients to ensure their events succeed. This includes helping them coordinate services with other vendors and ensuring they've considered all the details.
- Customer service: A catering director is the anchor connecting the client to the staff. When there's a problem, it's up to this professional to resolve it (and fast).
- Site preparation: Catering directors make sure every visual detail of an event is perfect. They also oversee seating arrangements, room layout, and decoration.
- Menu planning: Catering directors work with clients and chefs to come up with an appropriate menu that works within the event budget. They also oversee pricing and prepare sample menus.
- Management: Catering directors oversee event staff, typically hiring, training, and firing them when necessary. They also oversee scheduling, considering each employee's strengths to ensure the staff matches the event.
- Business relations: Catering managers are responsible for coordinating services and ordering food, equipment, and supplies. They must be able to maintain good working relationships with vendors and negotiate deals when necessary.
Jobs for Catering Directors
A catering director's general duties can vary tremendously depending on title. Here are the most common catering management titles and their related duties:
- Catering managers: Overseeing all aspects of events, these professionals hire and train event staff, set-up and tear down equipment, oversee menu and pricing, and provide excellent customer service.
- Catering sales managers: Build customer relations to get (and keep) new clients. These professionals must have a bit of business know-how.
- Banquet managers: Supervise, manage, and oversee all aspects of a banquet event's set up and maintenance. These professionals typically work for hotels, resorts, or cruise lines.
- Private event directors: Plan, sell, and coordinate everything relating to private events and meeting functions, including menu planning and customer service.
Catering Director Work Environment
One of the great things about being a catering director is having the freedom to work in a variety of environments; after all, you could work anywhere that would support a great party. Still, most catering directors work in one of the following venues:
- Restaurants with banquet services
- Cruise lines
- Event centers
- Private and office event sites
Trends in Catering Management
Catering is by no means a new industry. In fact, according to the University of Connecticut, its roots can be traced back to 400 B.C. when prosperous China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome used early catering methods to feed soldiers. By the middle ages, people really knew how to throw a party, and entertainment-based catering services took off. By the 19th and 20th centuries, technical innovations, transportation improvements, and a growing population helped modern catering become what it is today.
Catering directors have always had to accommodate the trends of the times. Today, that means serving an increasingly food-savvy and environmentally conscious clientele. Menus featuring international cuisine, comfort foods, and farm-to-fork fare are in demand.
How Will Formal Education Help You Become a Catering Director?
While food management professionals were historically taught on the job after serving a number of years in the industry, the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) notes that more employers than ever are recruiting professionals with formal training. This is particularly true for catering directors, which must have a certain degree of business acumen.
Types of Catering Management Degrees
There are a number of paths to becoming a catering director. Here are the most common credentials:
- Associate's degree in catering, food, or hospitality management
- Bachelor's degree in catering, food, or hospitality management
- Professional food manager certificate; requirements vary by state
- Certified professional catering executive certificate through the National Association of Catering Executives
- Other business-related degrees, so long as you have an interest and aptitude for food service
Catering director courses touch on a number of topics, including: nutrition, food preparation and planning, business, accounting, public relations, and sanitation.
What Is the Job Outlook for Catering Directors?
Like most food management careers, the job outlook for catering directors is a mixed bag. On one hand, the BLS reports that new positions are expected to grow just 5 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. On the other hand, food careers typically have tremendous turnover, so there is still an abundance of jobs for new catering directors.
How Has the Recession Affected Catering Managers?
It seems the sluggish economy has impacted most industries, and food management is no exception. Fortunately, some aspects of a catering director's job seem virtually recession-proof, though budgets have gotten tighter. A client will still hire a catering service for a wedding reception, for instance, but food and other services may be downsized.
As always, catering directors adjust with the times. Today, that means learning how to accommodate tighter budgets, finding good deals, and negotiating with vendors. It also means knowing how (and when) to cut overhead costs and staff.
Average Catering Director Salary
It can be difficult to say for certain how much you can expect to earn as a catering director since salary varies by employer, typical event size and budget, and location. In general, however, one can expect to earn between $35,000 and $45,000. This number can increase dramatically with education and experience. You can also earn more by using your skills to launch your own catering service, though a business degree might be in order to help you succeed.
If a career in catering sounds like the job for you, browse Chef2Chef.net to learn more about becoming a catering director.
About the Author
Aimee Hosler is a freelance journalist and self-proclaimed foodie. She earned her journalism degree from California Polytechnic State University in the heart of the San Luis Obispo wine country.