Knowledge and skills required for catering?

Joined May 11, 2010
I'm currently a line cook at a steak house and I'm really interested in getting into catering and eventually starting my own catering business.  I just wanted to know what kind of skills do I need to improve in order to succeed in catering.  What kind of dishes are most often served? Are there specific types of meats, pastries, salads, soups, or appetizers that I absolutely must know?  I don't expect to start a catering business for several years, but I would like to start preparing for it as much as I can now.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
You must be a chef, dishwasher, bartender, truck driver, hauler, purchasing agent, receiving steward, plumber, electrician,carpenter., book keeper  Be able to make a decision at a moments notice. Get a job at a catering facility first then decide. A lot of people think it is show-biz and you walk around in a tux. Trust me it's not. You must be detail oriented with a fantastic memory and capable of 12 to 18 hours on your feet.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Organization and a great sense for detail is a must. Owning a Restaurant is like having a play on Broadway, Having a catering company is taking the show on the road. It takes a lot more skill to perfect your skills in adverse conditions. I have done Luaus on the beaches of Hawaii, Pow Wows in the Pacific Northwest, and 7 course French Dinners in Private clubs, to 5 course dinners in the smallest kitchen I have even seen at a Winery. You need to be good in all food varieties, talk a good game, and walk the talk when its time. You need to be the one that has all the responsibility and still be the coolest head in the kitchen..............If you could do all, then go for it....Chef Bill
Joined Oct 10, 2005
All of the above advice is good, BUT........

Cooking is only about 1/4 of the skills you need when catering.  Don't want to dissapoint you, but catering is NOT about cooking.

In order to cater you need clients.

Fair enough, with that in mind:

1)How do you get them?

2) How do you quote prices?
3) How do you "stick to your guns" when the client starts going cheap or going all wishy-washy on you?


You have to design your menu and develop your skills on the following:

1) Price level:  High end, medium, or low end?  All are good levels to work in, but you should stick with only one level.

2)Infrastructure and equipment available:  Some caterers I know don't even have a hot kitchen, but are very succesfull.  Some have invested in good transport equipment, some have the luxury of a hall in the building.

You can make wonderfull food, but it might look like sh*t when transported and set up on-site, so you have to "engineer" your food to look great when brought out on site, to transport well, and most importantly, to make you money


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
There is a reason why there are three departments in a hotel.  Sales, banquet, and kitchen.  All with their own staff and management.
Joined May 11, 2010
On the note of bartender... do most catering chefs provide beverages too?  Such as tea, coffee, table wine, etc?
Joined Aug 11, 2000
depends on the venue.....most venues include their own bars, that way they make more $$$

Beverages are a super way to increase the bottom line.

What is it about catering that attracts you?

What do you need to know?

well if it's offsite then knowing logistics is key.  knowing what equipment is necessary to do a job, designing menus that reflect the venue, clients/guests, budget....and if you buy local knowing what's in season when....which can be REALLY tricky.  You need to know how to train & keep staff. 

Marketing/Branding yourself, where to effectively advertise, when to walk away when you don't make money on an event..... you can cook, can you display food in an attractive manner?  Do you have decorative equipment or know where to source it?

Rental Companies....who has what, who takes care of you when you forget to order or they forget to deliver, who keeps their equipment up to date and CLEAN.

Portions.....portion amounts for to estimate amounts by profiling.....

Cooking on site....Plating on site....

Then the biggest part of offsite catering...How to Macgyver when STUFF happens....and it will.....

How to get cash flow, how to write contracts....knowing your competition.....

How do you deal with bridezilla or with a client that is really trying to jerk you around.....

How do you make $$$$......

There is nothing like building a kitchen in the middle of an empty room, serving 5 different aps+ a station, serving 200 guests 3 entrees with 5 sides and coordinating 15 staff....oh yeah and working around the crappy elavator, the mini choochoo that you have to haul all the equipment across and dealing with parking.......yehaw!

Why do we do it? Because it's a huge's the badass of's easy to work from a set kitchen with stoves, refrigerators, sinks, try doing it in the middle of nowhere for a few hundred people.....oh yeah and sometimes it rains, snows, sleets, etc.....
Joined May 11, 2010
What is it about catering that attracts you?
The creativity invovled, cooking onsite at different venues, the ability to produce high quality food, making that wedding, graduation, birthday, or any other celebration that much more enjoyable and successful.  That just about sums it up. :D

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