Caterer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotThe next time you attend a wedding or large business meeting, you'll probably enjoy a visit to the buffet table for some yummy food. Have you ever wondered who prepared all this food and who will wash up the dirty dishes? It was a caterer, an expert in food and events.

dotCaterers tackle the complicated task of providing food for both large and small occasions. The job involves everything from menu planning to cleanup.

Some caterers prepare food for large events such as weddings with as many as 500 guests. Other caterers may specialize in providing small business lunches to only a handful of people.

dotThere are two kinds of caterers: the "off-premise caterer" and the "on-site caterer."

  • The off-premise caterer is typically self-employed. This caterer prepares food in their own commercial kitchen, then delivers it to where it will be eaten. These caterers may also have to provide other required items, like plates, tables and chairs. In such cases, these caterers will hire another business as a sub-contractor to provide these items.
  • The on-site caterer is employed by a hotel, banquet hall or convention center. The idea is "one stop supplies it all." If you have a meeting at a hotel, they will provide everything you need, including meals, tables, chairs and even rooms.

dotFrom a career point of view, the self-employed caterer concentrates more on food selection and preparation. The on-site caterer is more concerned with the management of the total event, including logistics of where guests will park their cars.

dotAn essential part of every caterer's job is to find out how many people must be fed, what they want to eat and when they will be eating. Based on this information, the caterer builds a menu and works out how much food will have to be purchased.

All the food must then be prepared and ready for the event. Sometimes caterers will deliver and serve the food. Other times, the food is picked up and the caterer doesn't go to the function.

dotCaterers are usually hired directly by their clients. Sometimes a client will ask for a "bid" before they hire a caterer. A bid is a document which sets out what the menu will be and how much it will cost.

Clients may call several caterers for bids, then choose one. While menu choices and price are important considerations for a client, so is the caterer's reputation.

dotCaterers work all kinds of hours. They may find themselves feeding a rock 'n' roll band at 2 a.m. Saturday night, only to get up at 6 a.m. to prepare for a funeral Sunday morning. Whenever events happen, you'll find a caterer working.

dotPhysically, a caterer must be able to endure long hours and the occasional short night. There is some heavy lifting involved as well, such as stacks of dishes and trays of food.

At a Glance

Provide delicious food to their clients

  • This work involves everything from menu planning to cleanup
  • They are usually hired directly by their clients
  • A college or university education in food preparation or hotel management is recommended