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What is a Party Caterer?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A party caterer provides all the elements necessary to have a successful social gathering—except for the venue. He traditionally prepares and serves food and drinks, creates an aura in accordance with the host’s preferences and cleans up the location at the conclusion of the festivities. The caterer can provide his services in the client’s home or at a specified location outside the residence.

A caterer is often self-employed and may have only one or two people helping him prepare and serve food and drinks. These helpers may be regular staff members or contract workers. Some caterers concentrate their efforts on food preparation and assign others to provide service.

Excellent culinary skills are normally mandatory to be a successful party caterer. Besides having exemplary cooking and baking skills, a flair for presentation is a common requirement for success in this career. Since is it widely believed that food must first be enjoyed by the eye before it can be appreciated by the palate, artistic staging often is of the essence.

Menu planning talents are generally required for a party caterer. One of his first jobs, often required before his client signs a contract for his services, is to present a menu tailored to the customer’s needs. The guidelines he generally has to follow include budget considerations, whether the party will feature a sit-down meal or offer a buffet and if the food selection should be hot, cold or a combination of the two. Food allergies and preferences play major roles in menu selections. A tasting menu of food samples may be provided prior to the event to give the client a clear indication of what the chosen food will taste like.

Other factors for deliberation often include whether available beverages will include alcohol and, if so, if the selection will be limited to beer and wine or offer a full bar of alcohol and mixers. If a special event, such as an anniversary or birthday, is the focal point of the event, the inclusion of a special cake may be appropriate. Color schemes and themes are other topics ordinarily discussed by the caterer and his client.

Besides having clearly defined talents in food preparation, a party caterer is typically required to have excellent communication skills. He needs to understand his client’s preferences, be able to negotiate contracts and have good public relations skills to promote his business. Being organized is necessary to plan and execute his services.

No formal education or training is required to be a caterer. Special classes in certain types of food preparation may be taken by a caterer to expand his talents and offerings. Working as a food server or in a commercial kitchen environment provides good experience for an aspiring party caterer.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Oct 27, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- You can't overstate the need for a contract. I used to do some weekend catering for small events, and I bought a blank contract form from an office supply store and made a zillion copies of it. If I talked to someone, they didn't leave with a final date until I had a signed contract.

I got taken to court twice. Both times, I had the contract and the judge dismissed the case. Both times, it was essentially because the people changed their mind about what they wanted and told me at the very last minute, and I couldn't make the changes. Too bad. There's a lot I liked about it, but I'd never do it again.

By Pippinwhite — On Oct 26, 2014

I used to think I wanted to be a caterer, but I don't think so. It's just too much aggravation. I've helped a friend who catered parties, and it's a major headache most of the time, even when you have a clear contract.

She catered this one event and had done a tasting so the people could decide what they wanted. She had a detailed contract of what they ordered -- in triplicate. This was a good thing because they complained about everything and said it "wasn't what they thought it would be." Fortunately, my friend had the contract they signed and they couldn't say much after that.

She kept her cool. I'm afraid I would have been arrested for assault.

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