Education and Training Requirements

High School

Does working as a caterer sound interesting to you? If so, you should take family and consumer science classes in high school. Any class that will teach you about food preparation, presentation, and nutrition will be valuable. Since caterers run their own businesses, you should also take math, accounting and bookkeeping, and business classes to prepare for dealing with budgets, record keeping, and management. Like so many small-business owners today, most caterers use computers for such tasks as planning schedules, keeping addresses, preparing billing statements, and updating accounts, so be sure to take computer classes, especially those in database management. English classes will help you to hone your communication skills, which will be essential when you deal with customers. Since many food service workers speak Spanish as their native language, it is a good idea to take Spanish classes. Finally, round out your education by taking health and science classes, which will give you an added understanding of nutrition, how the body works, and how to prevent food contamination.

Postsecondary Training

The best way to enter the catering industry is through a formal training program. One way of obtaining this education is to attend a vocational or community college with an appropriate program. Many of these schools and colleges offer professional training in food science, food preparation, and catering. Often these programs will provide opportunities for students to work in apprentice positions to gain hands-on experience.

As the catering field has grown more competitive, many successful caterers are now choosing to get a college degree in business administration, family and consumer science (home economics), nutrition, or a related field. If you decide to get a four-year college degree, make sure your course work includes subjects in nutrition, health, and business management, regardless of your major. A number of colleges and universities also offer assistance to their students in finding apprenticeships. In addition, there are specialized culinary colleges such as the multi-campus Culinary Institute of America, which offers associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts; bachelor’s degree majors in management, culinary science, and applied food studies; and executive education through its food business school.

Other Education or Training

The National Association for Catering and Events offers webinars, in-person training, and conference seminars and workshops. Recent topics included the principles of wine and food pairing, the business side of weddings, legal issues, career advancement, and networking. The International Food Service Executives Association and the International Live Events Association also provide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

As a measure of professional status, many caterers become certified through the National Association for Catering and Events. To qualify for this certification, called the certified professional in catering and events, caterers must meet certain educational and professional requirements as well as pass an examination. To keep their certification current, caterers must also fulfill requirements such as completing continuing education courses and attending professional conferences. The International Food Service Executives Association offers the certified food executive and the certified food manager designations. The International Live Events Association offers the certified special events professional designation. Contact these organizations for more information.

Most states require caterers to be licensed, and inspectors may make periodic visits to catering operations to ensure that local health and safety regulations are being maintained in food preparation, handling, and storage.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Previous work as a cook or catering manager will provide useful experience for aspiring caterers.

There is a lot of variety in the type of work a caterer does. The caterer must work closely with a variety of clients and be able to adapt to last-minute changes. Caterers must be able to plan ahead, work gracefully under pressure, and have the ability to adapt to last-minute mishaps. Attention to detail is critical, as is the ability to work long hours under demanding situations. They must be able to direct a large staff of kitchen workers and waitpersons and be able to interact well with clients, guests, and employees.

The professional caterer should have a commitment to learning. Foods go in and out of fashion, new techniques develop, and our understanding of nutrition and health is always growing. The successful caterer will want to keep up with these new developments in the field. Because caterers run their own businesses, they should be organized, able to work on tight schedules, and conscientious about keeping accurate records. The successful caterer enjoys working with people and also has an artistic eye, with the ability to arrange food and settings in an appealing manner.