Where Can A Career In Catering Take You?
Catering is the production and serving of food to customers or members of the public, and needs bright and practically-minded graduates to keep it moving at the fast pace that it requires.
The industry covers a large area, from upscale restaurants to fast food outlets – and everything in between. Roles might include head chef, catering manager or restaurant manager, meaning there is a huge variety of environments that you can choose to work in. Across all parts of the industry, catering depends on one central theme: providing a quality experience to a customer.
The industry is hugely varied, always busy, and you’ll work long hours (there’s rarely such thing as a 9-5 here) - but the enjoyment and fond memories that you can bring to customers is the reason why so many people choose to work within it. You’ll be given responsibility early on, and it opens opportunities to work anywhere in the world.
Types of jobs within catering
Catering comes in many forms, from mass catering for institutions such as schools, hospitals or hotels to working as a chef in a high-end restaurant or for bespoke events or parties. Across this spectrum you are likely to find the following roles:
Restaurant manager – taking overall control of a restaurant and the staff within it, including kitchen and waiting staff
Head chef – leading and developing the menu for an establishment that serves food
Catering manager – in charge of planning, deploying and supervising an organisation’s catering services
Bar manager – taking responsibility for the stock and staff behind a bar, and ensuring that customers receive a quality experience
Sous chef – second in command in a kitchen, behind the head chef
Chef de partie – a chef who is charge of a particular aspect of production in the kitchen
Skills & interests required
To work in most catering jobs you’ll need proficiency in certain areas – you can’t become a chef, for example, without the required training and food preparation knowledge.
Individual career routes will require specific technical skills, but there are also some skills that you’ll need in general to work in a customer-focused, high-energy industry like this. They include:
- Attention to detail
- Verbal communication
- Critical thinking
- Ability to work well under pressure
- Ability to think on your feet
Typical Career Progression Routes for Graduates in Catering
Unlike many industries, catering offers those that work within it the opportunity to progress relatively quickly. Because many parts of the industry are so busy, you’re likely to be trusted with a large amount of responsibility early on, and it’ll be up to you to prove that you can successfully complete the tasks that you’ve been given – including dealing with any challenges that appear along the way.
If you’re working in the kitchen of a restaurant, you are likely to start out as a kitchen assistant or similar before progressing to become a chef de partie, a sous chef, and eventually – if you decide to stay within the industry – a head chef. You could then move up to more prestigious establishments and/or apply for jobs running bigger kitchens.
The catering industry has been praised for the career opportunities that it offers, particularly for graduates. Because much of the industry is hands-on, you’ll be learning new skills and dealing with new situations often, if not daily – and this learning curve should be directly recognised by your superiors, who can provide mentoring and advice for your career progression.
Tips for getting into the field
Obviously, a passion for food and the ability to stay calm under pressure and in hectic environments are both essential if you want a career in catering.
There are also a large number of general, non-industry-related things that you can do to put yourself in a good position to start applying for jobs. These include:
- Tailoring your CV for each specific role, making sure you focus on previous experience and relevant skills
- Applying for work experience – this is a no-brainer: as well as ensuring that you’ve experienced the field before you start applying for jobs within it, it’ll show that you’re committed and allow you to start acquiring the practical skills you’ll need in your future job
- Take on similar roles – for example as a kitchen assistant or similar, in holidays or whilst you apply for higher-level roles right after graduation
- Get the relevant accreditation – in this case, courses pertaining to food or health and safety might be most useful to you
- Use your contacts – university professors, those you met on work experience, people you can approach through social media or LinkedIn – they’re all potentially the stepping stone to your next role, and they might very well be happy to help you
The variety of careers within catering means average salaries are almost impossible to calculate. A well-respected chef will earn a significantly higher salary than an assistant catering manager, for example, and the ability to manage teams or run your own businesses means pay can rise hugely.
Here are a few average salaries for various jobs within the catering sector in the UK:
Catering Manager - £22,200
Head Chef - £27,000
Kitchen Assistant - £13,400
Restaurant Manager - £23,000
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
Graduates with degrees in any subject can move into catering, although knowledge of the industry and previous experience working in a kitchen are of huge benefit – so if you’ve got hotel, bar, kitchen or any other work experience, shout about it!
If you’ve done a degree specifically related to this area – for example in food production – the knowledge and practical skills you’ve acquired will place you in the perfect position to move into this industry as a graduate.
If you’re committed to a career in this area, it might be worth looking into a course that can train you in the specific skills that are demanded by the industry. Often these can be done online or in the evening, if you need it to fit in around your other commitments. On the whole, courses such as these will allow you to go into roles at a higher level.