Like many careers, catering takes a combination of training, hard work, and carefully honed skills to succeed. While there is much in common with being a chef, caterers face many additional challenges. Caterers have to handle such business matters as accounting, marketing and customer relations, in addition to the quality of the food.
At its most basic level, catering is all about food. No matter how beautifully the venue is decorated or how carefully the place settings are arranged, clients won't return if the food is awful. You also need enough cooking experience to make recipe substitutions, plan menus, and safely prepare, reheat and transport large amounts of food.
A good caterer (and their staff) should be aware of and comply with the most-up-to-date food safety laws in their particular state. The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of food safety regulations throughout nation, and FoodSafety.gov allows you to find your state agency. Further training in this field is offered many culinary institutes and local colleges.
Caterers work with clients to design a menu. Being courteous, tactful, and diplomatic is necessary, as you may need to persuade a client to substitute an ingredient or change a dish. Good communication and people skills are also vital to building up a client repertoire and catering a successful event. A satisfied customer is the best recommendation, and word-of-mouth remains some of the most effective advertising out there.
Flexibility & Creativity
Recipes may need to be adjusted to cope with food allergies, and cooking methods may have to be altered to conform to religious dietary requirements or personal preferences. An imaginative and adaptable person will be able to triumph in these situations, and instill confidence in their clients in the process.
A caterer has to manage a staff of cooks, servers, cleaners, and dishwashers, while ensuring their team is aware of their schedules, place settings, serving customs, and food safety regulations. It may also be necessary to provide direction and advice to customers.
Caterers must be enthusiastic and proactive, to promote themselves and bring in business. During the busiest times of year, a caterer may work long hours, seven days a week, which demands stamina. It's also important for caterers to motivate one's employees (and stay motivated themselves) in moments when business is slow.
Fluctuating work is part of the job. The often busy periods, such as weekends and holidays, must be balanced with the times of year when business is only trickling in. Being able to financially plan and weather the slowdowns is particularly important to a caterer.
More than just cooking, a catering service has to be a profitable business. The administrative tasks in catering deal with pricing services, accounting, taxes, managing employees, ordering food, and organizing schedules and budgets.
Your food may be delicious, but the phone won't ring unless people know about you. Getting your business noticed is important and in catering, a good network of contacts is essential. You'll have to liaise with florists, venue organizers, event planners and a variety of other services that it takes to pull of a large event, but this also acts as your network of referrals.
Attention to detail
A caterer may also be in charge of some decor, table arrangements and food presentation. Setting up, running and clearing the dining room all fall under the task of a caterer. Here's where you can impress your client and all of their guests - who are all potential clients themselves.
Taking time to study the field of catering and learn about its particular challenges and demands can make all the difference between failure and success. If you love cooking, interacting with people, and have a flair for parties, a career as a caterer may be a good choice for you.