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Carve Out a Career in Catering

Carve Out a Career in Catering
Weekends offer many workers a much-needed chance to relax and recharge -- unless they work in the catering business. That's because Saturdays and Sundays are usually prime time for catered events. In fact, for catering workers, many of whom are students and stay-at-home parents in need of flexible schedules, weekend and evening hours are made to order.

So if you like to mingle with strangers, prefer a flexible work schedule and favor an active work environment, the catering industry may be right for you. The following considerations and tips will guide you in securing a job in this field.

A Flexible Job

Catering jobs come in all different shapes and sizes, according to Bill Hansen, president of Miami-based Bill's Catering and Leading Caterers of America. "There are jobs in banquet halls, off-premises caterers that cater in a variety of arenas, as well as home-party caterers," he says.

What's more, the catering industry offers hourly workers much more flexibility than the restaurant business does, Hansen says. "Once you begin to work for a catering firm, you can pick and choose when you want to work," he says, adding that being available at a moment's notice can help you land assignments.

A Feast-or-Famine Business

The flip side of that coveted flexibility is seasonal hiring that may not always fit your needs. "In New York, summers can be slow," says Janie Feinstein, a private New York chef and caterer. "Business starts to pick up right around Thanksgiving and stays busy through the Christmas and New Year's holidays."

Hansen points out that seasonal work varies, depending on geography. "Summer in the New York Hamptons is a hot time, while summer business in Florida is slow," he says.

Pay Your Dues

Feinstein advises job seekers with minimal experience to be honest. "Experience in this field is not something you can fake," she says. "Someone will see through you." Instead, approach potential employers with a can-do attitude. "Offer to do anything to get your foot in the door," she advises. "This includes washing dishes, food prep and being a gofer." This is also a great way to see if the catering business is right for you.

"Be willing to make a little bit less to start and you will probably get a break," Feinstein adds.

If you are prepared to start as a server, for instance, you've got a pretty good shot at landing a long-term job in the field without formal training or experience, according to Hansen. "Some caterers would rather train someone to do things their way," he explains.

The Right Ingredients

Stamina is a key ingredient for success in catering. "There is a lot of schlepping, walking and heavy lifting," warns Hansen.

"You spend a lot of hours on your feet," says Feinstein. "These are not 9-to-5 jobs. Your call time (the time you need to appear) could be 6 a.m."

At the same time, a benefit associated with this type of work is free food. "You definitely get fed," she adds. "Sometimes you get really good food and other times you get the staff meal."

Looks Matter

Both Feinstein and Hansen say job seekers should pay close attention to personal grooming. As is true with the food being served, looks matter. "In some firms, earrings on guys work," says Hansen. "In other environments, they don't. When walking in for an interview, look like you are applying for a job and not the role of a guest at a party."

Learn more about food service careers.

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