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Culinary Careers: Catering Director | Culinaryed.com

by Aimee Hosler
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

Caterers are the professionals behind some of life's most important events, from weddings to graduation parties to business meetings. These seasoned professionals must create meals that not only taste good but also look great, often without the convenience of a full-service kitchen and its appliances.

What Does a Catering Director Do?

Sure, catering directors oversee an event's food service, but that's only the beginning. In fact, these professionals oversee virtually all aspects of an event, from planning to cleanup.

Typical Catering Director Job Duties

While specific duties often vary by position or work environment, there are a few duties most catering directors perform. These include:

  • Event planning: Catering directors work with clients to ensure their events succeed. This includes helping them coordinate services with other vendors and ensuring they've considered all the details.
  • Customer service: A catering director is the anchor connecting the client to the staff. When there's a problem, it's up to this professional to resolve it.
  • Site preparation: Catering directors make sure every visual detail of an event is perfect. They also oversee seating arrangements, room layout, and decoration.
  • Menu planning: Catering directors work with clients and chefs to come up with an appropriate menu that works within the event budget. They also oversee pricing and prepare sample menus.
  • Management: Catering directors oversee event staff, typically hiring, training, and firing them when necessary. They also oversee scheduling, considering each employee's strengths to ensure the staff matches the event.
  • Business relations: Catering managers are responsible for coordinating services and ordering food, equipment, and supplies. They must be able to maintain good working relationships with vendors and negotiate deals when necessary.

Jobs for Catering Directors

A catering director's general duties can vary tremendously depending on title. Here are the most common catering management titles and their related duties:

  • Catering managers: Overseeing all aspects of events, these professionals hire and train event staff, set-up and tear down equipment, oversee menu and pricing, and provide excellent customer service.
  • Catering sales managers: Build customer relations to get (and keep) new clients. These professionals must have a bit of business know-how.
  • Banquet managers: Supervise, manage, and oversee all aspects of a banquet event's set up and maintenance. These professionals typically work for hotels, resorts, or cruise lines.
  • Private event directors: Plan, sell, and coordinate everything relating to private events and meeting functions, including menu planning and customer service.

Catering Director Work Environment

One of the great things about being a catering director is having the freedom to work in a variety of environments; after all, you could work anywhere that would support a great party. Still, most catering directors may work in one of the following venues:

  • Hotels
  • Restaurants with banquet services
  • Cruise lines
  • Event centers
  • Private and office event sites

How Can Formal Education Help You Become a Catering Director?

While food management professionals were historically taught on the job after serving a number of years in the industry, the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) notes that more employers than ever are recruiting professionals with formal training. This is particularly true for catering directors, which must have a certain degree of business acumen.

Types of Catering Management Degrees

There are a number of paths to becoming a catering director. Here are the most common credentials:

  • Associate's degree in catering, food, or hospitality management
  • Bachelor's degree in catering, food, or hospitality management
  • Professional food manager certificate; requirements vary by state
  • Certified professional catering executive certificate through the National Association of Catering Executives
  • Other business-related degrees, so long as you have an interest and aptitude for food service

Catering director courses touch on a number of topics, including: nutrition, food preparation and planning, business, accounting, public relations, and sanitation.

What Is the Job Outlook for Catering Directors?

Like most food management careers, the job outlook for catering directors is a mixed bag. On one hand, the BLS reports that new positions are expected to grow just 5 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. On the other hand, food careers typically have tremendous turnover, so there is still an abundance of jobs for new catering directors.

How Has the Recession Affected Catering Managers?

It seems the sluggish economy has impacted most industries, and food management is no exception. Fortunately, some aspects of a catering director's job seem virtually recession-proof, though budgets have gotten tighter. A client will still hire a catering service for a wedding reception, for instance, but food and other services may be downsized.

As always, catering directors adjust with the times. Today, that means learning how to accommodate tighter budgets, finding good deals, and negotiating with vendors. It also means knowing how (and when) to cut overhead costs and staff.

Average Catering Director Salary

It is impossible to say for certain how much you can expect to earn as a catering director, since salary varies by employer, typical event size and budget, and location. In general, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for a caterer in 2010 was between $35,000 and $45,000. This number can increase dramatically with education and experience. You can also use your skills to launch your own catering service, though a business degree might be in order to help you succeed.

Sources:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. University of Connecticut
  3. The Examiner
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