Wedding Caterer Career Info
|Licensure and Certification||Business license is standard; liquor and/or state-issued catering licenses could be required; certification preferred for some positions|
|Experience||Experience required by most employers|
|Key Skills||Skills vary based on position; ability to cook and work under pressure, leadership skills|
|Salary||$31,835 (2016 median salary for all caterers)|
Sources: Job postings from employers (September 2012), Various state licensing boards and departments, Payscale.com
Wedding caterers are professionals who handle the food preparation and presentation at weddings. Caterers also perform other duties, such as arranging a dining area, supplying a wedding cake and directing the cake cutting and toasts. Many wedding caterers run their own businesses or work in management positions. A wedding caterer can work 12-hour days, which includes evenings and weekends. While a caterer may have a flexible schedule, job stability fluctuates. These professionals should be able to work well under pressure and should have strong leadership skills in addition to an ability to cook. Caterers in general earned a median annual salary of $31,835, according to Payscale.com in 2016.
Step 1: Pursue Education
Formal education isn't always necessary in the catering business, but it can help supplement general culinary and business knowledge. Meeting and event planning certificate programs address sales, marketing, finance, site selection, decor and contracts. Some programs also offer electives in wedding planning and other social events.
Culinary programs provide training in food and beverage management, banquet events, accounting and preparation of different types of cuisine. Wedding caterers who plan to open their own catering company or work in a management position could find business courses that cover negotiations, entrepreneurship and event management useful.
For caterers interested in pursuing education beyond the certificate level, associate's and bachelor's degree programs exist in culinary arts, meeting and event planning, catering and business. Degree programs typically consist of more advanced topics and may help a caterer stand out as a professional in the industry.
Prospective wedding caterers can gain experience through internships while attending school. An internship allows students to expand their education outside of a classroom by learning new skills from professionals in the industry.
Step 2: Earn Certification
National organizations, such as the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and the International Special Events Society (ISES), offer certifications that test a wedding caterer's knowledge on catering and event planning principles. The ACF has several cooking, baking and pastry certification programs available for wedding caterers who want to exhibit specific expertise in culinary arts. The ISES' Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) credential demonstrates proficiency in the event-planning aspects of wedding catering, such as business marketing, ceremony protocols, entertainment planning and regulatory compliance.
Step 3: Comply With State Regulations
Wedding caterers usually need one or more types of licenses, depending on the services they provide. In addition to a business license or food service establishment license, some states might require special catering licensure when events are catered off-site or food is being transported. If alcohol is served, the caterer usually needs to obtain a state liquor license in order to sell and serve alcoholic beverages. A county health department inspector checks a caterer's kitchen to make sure it meets specific sanitation and safety code regulations.
Liability is also a concern for wedding caterers. Insurance can be purchased for a caterer's business, employees, food and beverages, automobiles and equipment. Many insurance companies offer liability coverage for caterers. However, some firms specialize specifically in covering wedding or private event catering.
Step 4: Develop a Business Plan
Wedding caterers must decide if they want to work under an established caterer or start a business of their own. Caterers who decide to pursue entrepreneurship must develop a business plan that covers marketing and finances. Additionally, self-employed caterers will need to develop their own menus and design promotional materials.
Wedding caterers can also promote their businesses and network with other professionals by setting up presentations at bridal expos. Bridal shows can also serve as a way to assess the competition.
Step 5: Continue Education
While continuing education isn't required in the catering business, professional wedding caterers can benefit from continuing their educations throughout their careers. Continuing education helps a caterer stay current with wedding industry trends and learn about new business-related concepts. The National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) offers a variety of webinars covering topics such as time management, same-sex weddings, forecasting future trends and marketing.
Wedding caterers may also want to consider joining a professional organization in order to illustrate their competency and standards as well as receive other benefits, such as Internet promotions, professional development and vendor networking. The Wedding Industry Professionals Association provides tiered memberships for all types of wedding-related companies and individuals and offers a list of members and contact information used by brides searching for vendors.
Though a degree isn't always a requirement to become a wedding caterer, professionals in the field should have some knowledge of both cooking and business basics in order to start a business and become established in the field.