Education and Training: None
Salary: Median—$28,800 to $65,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Home cooks or caterers prepare food at home and serve it at parties and other functions. A good, well-organized cook can start a small catering business and serve gourmet food to large and small gatherings.
Catering offers people the opportunity to be their own bosses. It also can be a part-time occupation, which makes it attractive to homemakers and others who need supplementary income. Home caterers have flexible schedules because they can accept or pass up engagements. In addition, the evening and weekend hours required for most catered events make it possible for caterers to pursue other interests or jobs during the day or the week.
Unlike opening a restaurant, a catering business can be a low-investment, low-risk enterprise. Caterers who combine good food and practical organization with prime serving locations are often successful. In addition to the financial reward, there is the personal satisfaction of seeing people enjoy the food and having clients who continue to hire the caterer for future engagements.
Education and Training Requirements
Many home caterers have no formal training. However, successful caterers are skillful in preparing traditional and new or unfamiliar dishes. They are also well organized and can work under pressure. It may prove useful to the home caterer to take courses that involve designing menus; estimating food quantities and prices; and health, zoning, and insurance regulations related to the food industry. Culinary degrees are offered by colleges and trade schools.
Getting the Job
Although home catering businesses tend to expand by word of mouth, finding clients initially requires a good strategy. People who know fine food and can afford to pay for it often shop in gourmet and specialty stores. It may be possible to leave business cards and sample menus in these shops or even to set up a table with free samples. Florists, bakers, and rental company managers often provide services for special events such as weddings and reunions, which also need caterers. Contact these people for a good springboard to finding catering jobs. Also, museums, churches, and businesses frequently need caterers. Contact the person in charge of food for social functions.
Home caterers must not only be skilled cooks, but they should be able to get along with customers whose tastes may differ from their own. Promptness, good organizational skills, and good business sense are necessities.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There is a growing market for catering services, and caterers no longer limit their services to restaurant lunches and annual holiday dinners. People who work full time are often too busy to cook and entertain. They may hire home caterers to prepare dinners for parties, or intimate, tasteful dinners.
Home catering services often start out small and then become large businesses. Some successful caterers decide to open retail stores with gourmet take-out and frozen dinners. Others decide to expand and become restaurant owners.
Cooking and catering services offer a variety of working conditions. Most small caterers work out of their own kitchens or out of the homes of friends or family members. Others prepare and serve meals at the locations of the parties or dinners, including banquet rooms, outdoor patios, or private homes. Some caterers find that their own kitchen enables them to work more efficiently, whereas others are comfortable in any location with the proper equipment. Home caterers must also consider state laws that govern food preparation when deciding on the location of their business.
Being a self-employed caterer offers the advantages of working either full or part time and being able to set one's own hours. However, those hours are irregular and often include evenings and weekends.
Where to Go for More Information
National Association of Catering Executives
9881 Broken Land Pkwy., Ste. 101
Columbia, MD 21046
National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc.
120 Wall St., 27th Fl.
New York, NY 10005
Earnings and Benefits
Catering can be extremely profitable. Even inexperienced caterers earn more than $250 a day after expenses. Median annual salaries for caterers are from $28,800 to $65,000. The salaries vary because there are many factors that determine a caterer's earnings, such as location, food costs, labor, services, transportation, cancellation fees, insurance, and helpers' wages. Self-employed caterers must provide their own health insurance, vacation pay, and pension benefits.