Most companies hiring caterers seek candidates who have some postsecondary training, although they may hire applicants with less education and extensive professional experience. Employers seek caters that have strong communication and customer service skills, work efficiently and perform well in stressful situations.
To work as a caterer, typical prerequisites include certificates and associate's degrees in catering, culinary management or hospitality in formal education programs. Non-traditional education can be gained by assisting an independent caterer or working in a catering business.
Certificate programs provide students with the basic catering and business skills needed to work in the food service industry. Programs can take 6-12 months to complete. Certificate programs include an internship where students can acquire hands-on catering experience with a local company. Typical coursework includes:
- Food preparation
- Sanitation and safety
Associate's in Culinary Management
A 2-year culinary management program typically focuses on food preparation, food service and business principles. Students also complete internships with local catering agencies or other food service establishments, where they receive culinary training. Examples of courses within a culinary management program include:
- Pastry arts
- Food purchasing
- Menu design
- Hospitality supervision
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS states that food service managers make a mean annual wage of $53,640 as of May 2015. The employment for this career is expected to grow 5% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.
The National Association of Catering Executives (NACE), the largest and oldest catering organization in the world, issues professional certification for caterers. Applicants can become Certified Professional Catering Executives (CPCE) once they pass a comprehensive examination, which focuses on seven important aspects of the event management and catering industry. Re-certification must be completed every five years. Catering workshops may be provided by employers wishing to train their own employees. These types of workshops teach caterers how to plan menus, store food and take inventory. National associations, such as the NACE, offer annual conferences for on and off-campus caterers, where professionals can learn from experts in the catering world, network with others in the field and study new catering trends.
Caterers working for an employer may decide to venture out on their own and open their own catering businesses. Applicants need to obtain a business license and a health department-approved facility to house their business. All other equipment may be rented if needed. To further their education, students can opt for a bachelor's degree in culinary arts. These 4-year degree programs teach students how to prepare different types of cuisines and how to make use of different cooking techniques. Most programs include a 1-2 year paid externship.
In a timeframe of 6 to 12 months, students can complete a certificate to work as a caterer. An associates degree, however, takes two years and will include more in-depth coursework. Either path will prepare students with the basics needed to work in this area of the food industry.