Catering Jobs and Careers
A large part of the hospitality industry is concerned with providing food and drink to customers in hotels, pubs and bars, as well as through contract catering.
As a service industry, catering is linked not only to local populations but to the transient population provided by tourism. Another area is business-to-business, providing catering services to companies.
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As an industry, catering is not going to go away, but it's fair to say that the ups and downs of the country's economy affect how much income people - and businesses - have to spend on eating and drinking. This in turn affects employment levels, which rise and fall as the industry expands and contracts.
Nevertheless, the catering industry continues to provide a wide range of jobs, many of which can be found locally. Many catering jobs require evening and weekend working, with flexible part-time jobs available for those unable to work full-time.
Employers in the Catering Industry
Hotels and guest houses provide catering jobs in restaurant and bars. As well as providing food and drink for guests, larger hotels have conference and function rooms, which cater for events ranging from business seminars and conferences to parties and wedding receptions. Hotels usually offer a wide range of jobs and, in the larger establishments, good chances of progression.
Working in Restaurants
You can expect to work longer hours and more split shifts in restaurants, due to the timing of peak hours. This also means more flexible vacancies are available. Suitably skilled chefs are frequently in demand while front of house staff, including waiting staff, are always needed.
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Working in Contract Catering
Contract caterers provide food services to private and business events, from parties to conferences, as well as on an ongoing basis to establishments such as universities, schools, hospitals and major venues. More full-time positions are available, although flexibility is often needed if evening events are catered for.
Working in Pubs, Bars and Clubs
Extensions of licensing hours have led to more full-time jobs being available in bars, although this work still provides a huge number of part-time evening and lunchtime jobs. There are at least 60,000 pubs and bars in the UK and local work is available in most areas.
Jobs in the Kitchen
What's involved? The Head Chef has ultimate responsibility for the kitchen on a daily basis. They're responsible for overseeing the stock ordering purchasing, producing the menus, managing the other chefs, ensuring high standards of cuisine, and managing every aspect of the kitchen's operations.
Training: Most entering the job these days have qualifications such as NVQ/SVQs, BTEC HND or a foundation degree in cookery. Health and Safety and Food Hygiene certificates are also needed. There's also a lot of on-the-job training and the head chef will have gained solid experience in a number of kitchens.
Who suits the job? You need to thrive under pressure and be a natural leader. You have to take responsibility and be able to delegate effectively. You must do all of this while creating menus and dishes.
What's involved? The Sous Chef works second only to the Head chef, assisting in and covering the senior chef's duties.
Training: NVQ/SVQs, BTEC HND or a foundation degree in cookery, plus Health and Safety and Food Hygiene certificates are needed. The Sous Chef usually has solid experience gained in a number of kitchens.
Who suits the job? As with the Head Chef, you need to thrive under pressure and be of leadership material. You will be very involved in motivating the more junior members of the team.
Chef de Partie
What's involved? The Chef de Partie looks after a section of the kitchen, such as butchery, fish, vegetables, etc, in a kitchen preparing French or fine cuisine, or a contemporary menu. This chef often has an assistant chef.
Training: 14-19 Hospitality & Catering diploma , NVQ/SVQs , City & Guilds Diploma, BTEC HND in professional cookery, or higher.
Who suits the job? You need to be calm under pressure, able to take responsibility for an area of the food service while supervising the chefs who are assisting you.
What's involved? In larger establishments where a high volume is prepared, the supervisor organises the work of the kitchen assistants. This involves organising the incoming stock and ingredients, supporting the menu planning, calculating the amount of ingredients needing preparation per session, and keeping the kitchen clean.
Training: Health and Safety certificates, and sometimes NVQ/SVQs , City & Guilds Diploma or BTEC HND.
Who suits the job? You need to be able to pay attention to detail, to ensure accurate provision of food quantities for each session. A perfectionist attitude is valuable, as you'll be keeping the kitchen in order as well as keeping it safe.
What's involved? Breakfast chefs usually work in hotels, preparing and cooking breakfast for the guests, including taking care of the buffet and ordering stock. As with the Head Chef, you need to thrive under pressure and be of leadership material.
Training: 14-19 Hospitality & Catering diploma , NVQ/SVQs , City & Guilds Diploma, BTEC HND in professional cookery.
Who suits the job? You need to be a reliable, punctual worker who is happy to rise early.
What's involved? As the most junior chef, they prepare the ingredients to be used by more senior chefs (section chef or chef de partie) and undertake basic cooking duties. Portion sizes and ingredients must be measured accurately. Special areas of responsibility might include sauces, vegetables, etc. The Commis chef also helps with managing the stock and deliveries.
Training: 14-19 Hospitality & Catering diploma , NVQ/SVQs , City & Guilds Diploma, BTEC HND in professional cookery, or higher.
Who suits the job? You need to love cooking and be ready to work hard in order to start your career in the kitchen.
What's involved? The assistant completes all the supporting jobs that keep the kitchen running, keeping the kitchen clean, washing utensils, organising ingredients, basic food preparation (such as peeling potatoes), cleaning floors, taking rubbish out, etc.
Training: No qualifications are usually expected for those starting this job, although progression into a chef's role may require some study as well as on-the-job experience.
Who suits the job? If you want to work in kitchens yet haven't attended college, are prepared to work hard and do the dirtier jobs in the kitchen, this job could suit you.
Jobs in Restaurants
What's involved? The restaurant manager's day-to-day duties include estimating how much food and drink will be needed, placing orders with suppliers and checking deliveries for quality and quantity. The manager also maintains the dishes, utensils and glassware stock, as well as getting equipment repaired when necessary. They manage and total up the daily takings and their safe deposit in the back office. The manager supervises all the non-kitchen staff and ensures smooth running of the public side of the restaurant.
Training: NVQ/SVQs, BTEC HND or higher, such as Associate degree in hospitality or another subject. Health and Safety and Food Hygiene certificates are needed. However, experience in restaurants is also usually required and larger chains have their own in-house training.
Who suits the job? You need to be a strong all-round manager, with strong customer service skills, good staff management abilities, excellent communication skills, organised and methodical, with the ability to work effectively under pressure.
What's involved? The wine waiter, also known as a 'sommelier', is responsible for the wine cellar and maintaining its stock. Working with the customers at the tables, the wine waiter also advises which wines will go best with the food selected from the menu. As well as good customer relations, they are responsible for actually skilfully serving the wine and even advising on cigars to accompany the after dinner drinks.
Training: Various organisations provide training, including the UK Sommelier Association. These courses cover the geography of wine regions, wine tasting and sensory analysis, organising a cellar, using glasses properly, the industry and its terminology, food and wine matching.
Who suits the job? You need to be passionate about wines and food, with an interest in learning about the industry in a more academic way. Interpersonal skills are needed for working with customers, particularly those who believe their knowledge to be superior to yours. Fewer jobs are available so competition is strong.
Waiter or Waitress
What's involved? Waiting staff prepare tables, greet and seat customers, hand out menus and take orders, and serve food. They also take the payments at the end of the meal. They aim to do this while making the customers feeling welcome and relaxed.
Training: Most restaurants have their own way of managing the service and will induct new staff into this. Additional training is often provided for approaches such as 'silver service', when vegetables are served separately. There is usually a head waiter or waitress in the team, who supervise the others.
Who suits the job? You need to have good customer service skills and the ability to work with the public as part of a team. Reliability and good time keeping are essential. Numeracy is important if you are going to be handling cash. A smart presentable appearance is important.
Jobs in Contract and Conference Catering
You will find most of the chef and restaurant service jobs already listed in contract catering. Additionally, there are catering manager jobs in both contract catering and hotel conference catering departments
Contract Catering Manager
What's involved? This hospitality role links the provision of food and drink with the requirements of the party making the conference, seminar, reception or celebratory event booking. The manager publicises the services on offer and responds to queries, schedules the reservations, defines the exact nature of the bookings in terms of the catering required, plans the menus with the clients, organises the event with the kitchen and dining staff, and oversees the event itself.
Training: To start work in this area, a qualification at least to HND (Higher National Diploma) is required, that is two years' further education in hospitality. This needs to be supported by at least 5 years on the job experience.
Who suits the job? You need to have good hands-on organisational and management skills, with the ability to multi-task. Strong interpersonal and customer service skills are essential. On top of this, the ability to sell and negotiate over services and prices is important.
Jobs in Bars
Pub or Bar Manager
What's involved? The bar manager oversees the entire running of a bar and kitchen in a smaller establishment, or liaises with the kitchen and serving staff in a restaurant or larger pub chain. This includes following licensing regulations and ensuring health and safety guidelines are upheld. The manager is responsible for managing stock and handling deliveries, and maintaining the cellar and condition of drinks. Contact with the customers includes sometimes dealing with difficult and drunk individuals. Hours are long.
Training: On the job experience is considered more important than training, although training in health and safety regulations are important. The formal qualification that's required is the National Certificate for Personal Licence Holders. Major pub chains will provide their own in-house training.
Who suits the job? You need to be extremely personable and able to get along with a wide range of people. Able to turn your hand to many things, you need to be able to move from budgets to changing a beer barrel in the same five minutes.
What's involved? Bar staff prepare and serve drinks to customers, either over the bar or via the waiting staff in restaurants. In pubs serving bar food, staff also take food orders. Collecting used glasses and cleaning them, and clearing up the customer area are also part of the job. Hours can be long and late into the night.
Training: Bar staff usually learn on the job, receiving training when working in large pub chains.
Who suits the job? You need to be sociable and able to interact with a wide range of people. Punctuality and reliability are important. Numeracy is needed for handling cash.
Where qualifications are required for jobs in catering, the most common is the National Vocational Qualification or Scottish Vocational Qualifications (NVQ/SVQ).
You can study for these as an apprentice. An apprenticeship is a way of gaining vocational training while working. It's not so much low paid work, as payment while learning and working at the same time. Most catering qualifications can be accompanied by technical certificates, such as Food Hygiene.
The Apprenticeships usually take from 1 to 4 years, depending on the qualification level you're aiming at. People of any age can apply for a position, although they are favoured most by the 16 to 18 year old age group.
Another way to do NVQs/SVQs or BTEC qualifications is to enrol in a part-time or full time college course, while working part-time. The hours in the catering business make it easier to do this.
The catering subjects are Professional Cookery, Food Processing & Cookery, Food and Drink Service and Advanced Professional Cookery.
The General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ) has three levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced, lasting 1-2 years. You can advance through them and, upon completion, you can progress to a HND (Higher National Diploma) if that's what you wish to do.
The Scottish Group Award (SGA formerly GSVQ) prepares you for a career in hospitality, whichever area you wish to head into. There are five SGAs in hospitality.
If working towards a management position, with some experience behind you and the qualifications (one A level and GCSEs or an Advanced GNVQ, or equivalent), you can apply to take a Higher National Diploma. This usually comprises two years' study with one year work placement. Some focus on professional cooking and the culinary arts.
Some three or four year degrees in hospitality have a food and catering management focus. These will involve work experience.
Jobs and Careers Prospects
Salaries in the catering industry are extremely variable, depending not only on the role and its hours, but also the kind of employing organisation and the area it is situated in. In larger hotel chains, you're more likely to come across benefit packages that include profit-related pay, pension schemes and health insurance. In many food establishments, you'll be offered subsidised accommodation or meals.
The staff turnover in catering tends to be pretty high. This is partly due to the availability of catering jobs. With the exception of management jobs and more specialist roles (such as wine waiter), it is relatively easy to find work if you have qualifications and are not too fussy about which days and hours you work.