What it's like to work for a caterer

Imagine being part of a team that makes weddings, conferences, and celebrations unforgettable. Or maybe even hosting musicians at a concert venue, or famous actors and socialites at a charity ball. Caterers make special events like this elegant and seamless — but they can’t do it alone. To deliver a great experience, they need a dedicated team of skilled professionals.

Working for a caterer is fun and challenging. The work is fast-paced and demanding, but there’s also an energy in the air that you don’t feel at other jobs. It takes energy, organization, and a good attitude to create a truly outstanding event. Wondering what else you can expect from a catering shift? Here's a quick rundown.

The catering work environment

Caterers provide services at a wide variety of locations. And choosing which one you want to work at is part of the fun! Here are just a few locations where a catered event might take place:

  • A country club
  • A conference center
  • A hotel
  • A banquet hall
  • A museum
  • A historic mansion
  • An office building
  • A rooftop deck
  • A restaurant
  • A music venue
  • A theater
  • A sports arena or stadium
  • A private home
  • A theme park

Any venue that hosts events will have a kitchen space and seating for guests. Most of the time, these guests will be regular people celebrating a special occasion. Once in a while — especially at high-profile events in big cities — you may see public figures. This might include professional athletes at a charity event, or actors at a gala.

The event was [like] a mini Met Gala and I was given a compliment by Salma Hayek about my professionalism, which I felt was really nice. Considering her stature in celebrity, it was nice to know she still took the time to observe me working hard to get their food out.”

- Instawork Pro Chester L.

No matter how impressive the environment or guest list may be, keep calm. Guests should always feel comfortable and welcome, not singled out. Guests are there to relax and enjoy themselves, so be polite and professional. Keep it cool, and don’t ask them for any special favors (even a selfie!).

Regardless of the guest list, one thing's almost certain — catered events are fast-paced. You don't want to keep guests waiting, so you'll need to serve them quickly and check in often. It can sometimes be challenging to balance all of your tasks, but it can be a lot of fun as well.

To do well in this environment, you should:

  • Be quick on your feet
  • Work well under pressure 
  • Have a team-player mindset
  • Be polite and professional

Related: What working in a warehouse is like

What to expect from a catering shift  

There are many different kinds of catering shifts. You want to be prepared, no matter what kind of shift you’re working.

Some partners may ask you to arrive early for a pre-event meeting, offering a short training session. Others may share this information via text prior to the event. Make sure to review all the details you have about the shift (including what to wear). It’s a good idea to do this when you confirm your shift, so you have time to prepare.

Also, review where you’re going (you’ll find directions in the Instawork app), how long it takes to get there, and what time you need to check-in. Being on time is essential for Instawork Pros, and it’s a core part of working events. The best way to ensure you won’t be late is to aim to arrive early. That way, if you hit an unexpected obstacle like traffic, you’ll still make it on time.

Front-of-house (FOH) professionals may be serving a plated meal, passing hors d’oeuvres, or bussing tables. Back-of-house (BOH) professionals prepare food and wash dishes. Here are some more specific catering roles:

  • Event servers bring people food and drinks at a table or serve them banquet style
  • Bussers work quietly and swiftly to clear tables of used dishes and silverware
  • Dishwashers wash dishes and silverware to keep everything stocked and running smoothly
  • Prep cooks do all the preliminary work for cooking, like washing, measuring, and chopping
  • Line cooks manage a station like the deep fryer or grill to keep the food coming

You don’t have to be a social butterfly to enjoy catering work. For some BOH roles, you don’t have to interact with guests at all. But if you’re on the wait staff, being friendly, outgoing, and helpful is an asset. It can even help you earn better tips.

Pro Tips

Don’t be nervous if you’re preparing for your first catering shift. Plenty of Instawork Pros felt that way, and now they’re seasoned veterans! You can find their feedback and advice on individual shifts in the Instawork app — here are a few tips from Pros that we rounded up:

  • "Come in early [because] you'll need to come in through security and exchange your ID for a security badge.” - Jacqueline L
  • "Bring an apron if you have one." - Jasmine J.
  • “Have your knives, peeler, and sharpie on hand. Follow instructions and avoid excessive breaks." - Fabian O.
  • “Just come ready to work and be a team player, and [you] definitely will have a great time. Also bring comfortable shoes as you stand all the time, except your break of course." - Silvia C.
  • "Come ready and willing to work as a team player with a smile." - Michael S.

The bottom line

Catering will keep you busy, but it’s a great option for those with a passion for creating incredible experiences. Social butterflies are good fits for FOH roles, while those who are shyer or love making food are well suited for BOH work.

And at the end of the day, there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment that team members feel after a successful event. Once pictures have been taken, toasts have been given, and tears have been shed, everyone is happy, full, and satisfied.

If you’re looking for a fun and fulfilling way to earn some extra cash, check out catering roles on Instawork today!

 

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