If you've ever held or been to a large event and you remember walking past trays of food sitting atop Bunsen burners, chances are you've interacted with a catering company in some capacity. Caterers provide food for large events ranging from businesses conferences to weddings and graduation parties. Most caterers must go through a training program before they are granted employment by a catering company.
Caterers work in the food service and hospitality industry creating and implementing menus for events such as private parties, weddings, funerals and bridal showers. Catering work is physically demanding, with employees spending a great deal of time on their feet and lifting heavy items. Academic training isn't always necessary, but it may be helpful to take culinary arts and business courses. Students might also enroll in culinary arts associate's or bachelor's degree programs that include co-operative experiences or internships.
|Required Education||Variable; high school diploma at minimum, but college courses, associate's degree or bachelor's degree is helpful|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||9% (chefs & head cooks)|
|Median Annual Salary (May 2015)*||$41,500 (chefs & head cooks)|
Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Formal education isn't usually required to become a caterer, but students may complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program in culinary arts to learn food preparation techniques, nutrition, food safety and business management information.
Associate's degree programs in culinary arts can include topics such as baking and pastry arts, culinary mathematics, restaurant cooking and serving, menu development and cooking for a banquet. International cuisine classes can offer diversity to the dishes served to catering clients. Bachelor's degree programs typically include the same courses as an associate's degree program but also include management and business courses, such as financial accounting, human resource management, hospitality marketing, business planning, foodservice management and organizational behavior.
Both of these programs can require students to participate in field experience through an internship, externship or co-op at such places as a hotel or restaurant. These opportunities provide the aspiring caterer with work experience in a professional kitchen. Students typically train with professional chefs and caterers during these outlets.
Certificate programs are also available for students planning a career in the catering and hospitality industry. Courses may cover hospitality and tourism, culinary arts, marketing in the hospitality industry, customer service and alcoholic beverage service.
The National Association of Catering Executives offers the voluntary Certified Professional Catering Executive designation that tests individuals' knowledge of topics like food production, catering services, marketing, accounting and event management (www.nace.net). Future caterers make seek professional certification to demonstrate their skills, network and increase clientele. Renewal is every five years and may be credited from a variety of factors, including employment, work experience, industry membership and continuing education.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), growth in the industry is expected to be slow, but the field experiences a high turnover of workers, which creates opportunities for those starting a career. Overall, the BLS predicts that positions for chefs and cooks will increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024. May 2015 data from the bureau revealed that chefs and head cooks earned a median salary of $41,500. The bureau also found that 14,780 chefs and head cooks worked for specialty food service businesses such as catering companies.
Caterers need to know safe food handling practices, how to make recipes properly and they must also have great communication and customer service skills. To meet these needs, caterers must go through a training program in addition to receiving extensive on-the-job training.