Become a Caterer: Education and Career Roadmap

Aug 06, 2018

Learn how to become a professional caterer. Explore the education, training, certification and licensing requirements that can help you start a career in catering.

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  • 0:27 Career Information
  • 1:08 Step 1: Food Safety…
  • 1:33 Step 2: Culinary Training
  • 2:27 Step 3: Licenses
  • 2:54 Step 4: Catering Certification
  • 3:17 Step 5: Network

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Caterers

Caterers work with clients to plan and execute menus for dinner parties, weddings, birthday parties, corporate celebrations and other special events. Many caterers run their own businesses, which often involves working long unpredictable hours, including nights, weekends and holidays. Kitchen environments can be hazardous, so adequate training is necessary to enter the field.

Career Information

Caterers should have good business, customer service and time management skills. They should also know how to work with basic kitchen equipment, such as knives. According to Payscale.com in August 2016, they earned a median hourly wage of $11. Caterers who want to work for large organizations, such as health facilities, hotels and universities, may need formal training. Completing an undergraduate program in culinary arts or hospitality management may help with advancement. Some municipalities may require a catering license. Depending on the state, caterers may also need a food safety certification, which we'll discuss next.

Step 1: Food Safety Certification

Most states require individuals who prepare food to obtain a food safety certification. Food safety courses are offered online or on site by local departments of health and community colleges. These courses teach students about proper food storage, food-borne illnesses, hygiene, pest control and sanitation. Following the completion of the course, students must pass an exam to attain their certification.

Step 2: Culinary Training

While a degree is not typically required to become a caterer, completing and undergraduate degree program in the culinary arts or hospitality management can help aspiring professionals acquire the background and skills necessary to gain a competitive edge in the field. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits over 200 postsecondary school programs in the United States. Some apprenticeship programs are also sponsored by the ACF. Course topics in a postsecondary program can include cooking, food sanitation, inventory control, menu planning and purchasing.

Students may also complete an apprenticeship or internship. Apprenticeships can last between six months and three years and include a minimum number of classroom hours. Apprentices may learn about cooking techniques and tools and food safety. Longer programs can also include instruction in advanced cooking techniques and baking.

Step 3: Licenses

As we said earlier, some municipalities require caterers to get a license, such as those who prepare food in their own kitchens and bring it to clients. In this case, a health and safety inspector will have to certify your kitchen. Most likely, you'll also need to register your catering business with your secretary of state's office and obtain a business license. Caterers planning to serve alcohol may have to apply for a separate additional license.

Step 4: Catering Certification

Caterers can obtain certification from the National Association for Catering and Events to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. To get this certification, applicants must take an exam that covers principles in accounting, contracts, food production and marketing, among other topics. Caterers are eligible for certification based on a certain number of points earned through education and experience.

Step 5: Network

Building a background of experience by catering church functions and events for family and friends is a good way to start networking by word of mouth. This type of networking is essential in order for caterers to acquire clients and become established in the industry. Caterers should also build relationships with event and wedding planners as they often become prime sources for referrals.

Let's review. You'll most likely need a food and safety certification to work as a caterer, along with formal training and/or experience in the culinary arts or hospitality management and the required municipal or state licenses. As of August 2016, caterers earned a median hourly wage of $11.

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