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Information on Catering Schools and Careers

Like food? Like organizing events? Caterers are chefs and businesspeople who work with clients to provide foods, refreshments, and related services for special events. Caterers enjoy a career that changes daily, since the events they organize are never the same.   

What Do You Need To Know as a Caterer?

Though businesses differ in the kind of food served and the extent of services offered, caterers need to have three aspects of the industry under control:

Cooking and décor (the creative side): Great caterers are creative with the services they provide. This involves creating a menu tailored to the organized event. A small, midday wedding that is beach themed, for example, may merit dishes that differ from those served at an evening corporate event.

Logistics (the planning side): Caterers need to be aware of the many moving parts necessary for putting on a successful event. After working out the event details and budgets with clients, caterers order food ingredients, alcohol, and supplies. Staff needs to coordinated, equipment needs to be rented, and depending on the location, special permitting may need to be organized as well. Food is another part of the logistics, since caterers need to plan ahead for food preparation and transportation to the event location.

Business (the numbers and strategic side): Just like running a successful restaurant, caterers need to know how to turn hard work into a profit. Caterers should have a good grasp on pricing and cost control, branding strategies for establishing an identity in the market, potential advertising tools, and general finances. A solid understanding of sales strategies is also important when securing bids, especially for catering director roles.

What Does a Catering Company Look Like?

Catering can take many forms, ranging from the informal to the upscale, small events to large, and working for an employer to owning your own business.

In general, catering companies identify as either an on-premise or off-premise catering company. Employees of on-premise businesses work at the event site. Many restaurants, hotels, resorts, cruise liners and event centers have catering divisions that are responsible for planning and orchestrating special events. However, with an off-premise business, planning takes place away from the event location and food, equipment, and staff are later transported to the site.

Additionally, catering companies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. On- and off-premise businesses can involve few or many employees, preparing events for 30 or 3,000 people. Catering companies can also differ in the kinds of services they provide. Some specialize in cakes and pastries, while others specialize in Indian cuisine. Some are responsible for the food itself and assist clients with ordering other services, such as event tables and dinnerware, while others roll up their sleeves and take care of all aspects of the event.

All of these operations require workers who know and love food and who can tackle the logistics of event planning.

Essential Catering Career Skills

Aside from culinary skills, to become a caterer you must have both good business and people skills. Good caterers are patient, detail-oriented, flexible, and organized. They can manage both schedules and teams of people and can keep impeccable records. They work well under stress (wedding clients, for instance, expect a perfect evening), can think on their feet (important if a server calls in sick), and have the drive to work hard. Good health is also important due to the physically demanding nature of catering.

Is Catering School or a Catering Degree Necessary?

Many people are able to enter the profession without a formal education or degree. These caterers enter the profession in entry-level positions in restaurants, hotels, or catering companies and work their way up with experience. On-the-job exposure to the workings of businesses is especially important.

However, many others have found a formal education to be a strong asset. Culinary courses, for example, can provide a valuable learning space for catering hopefuls to perfect their craft and hone their understanding of menus and nutrition. Additionally, business courses in marketing, accounting, and finance can prove indispensable for students interested in running their own company or assuming a leadership role. Colleges offering culinary arts programs, hospitality or hotel management programs, and restaurant management programs are good sources of relevant business training. Industry veterans find that a formal education, combined with work experience in the industry, can be a powerful combination on a resume.

Want To Learn More About Culinary Arts and Management Degrees?

Guides to culinary arts degrees, hospitality degrees, and restaurant management degrees provide additional information on different degree programs, course content, and careers.

Additional Resources on Careers in Catering
National Association of Catering Executives (NACE)
International Special Events Society (ISES)
American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Bureau of Labor Statistics career information for chefs, foodservice managers and lodging managers

Featured Catering Schools

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