The 2021 wedding season is projected to be among the busiest in a decade, with an estimated 2.77 million weddings, which is over half a million more than usual.
This is great news for catering companies whose revenues have evaporated in 2020, and it can be great news on your wallet as you explore this lucrative but underrated sideline.
I first discovered catering at Graduate School when a friend who worked for a catering recruitment company offered me a job. I had an hour-long training at the recruitment agency. On my first shift, a wedding on a historic property with an ocean view, I dropped a tray of champagne flutes.
Despite my bad start, I stayed with the catering. The money is consistent and the benefits add up to working for the right caterer. As of this writing, I have been eating catering leftovers all week.
Find out how to get started in catering, how much money you can make in catering, and what skills caterers need right now.
How to Find Local Catering Jobs
Event caterers are everywhere: big cities, college towns and rural areas benefiting from the rustic wedding trend. Wherever you go you will find a local catering company. If you’re between jobs, catering income can give you a buffer until you get something else.
Also, the jobs are often Friday evenings or anytime on the weekend, a bonus for a Monday through Friday worker who wants to make more money.
Given the seasonal part-time employment in the industry, workers tend to come and go. As a result, catering companies often hire. Many caterers enjoy working with college students who are home in the summer or with teachers looking for extra cash for their summers off.
During the wedding season, the best catering companies have two to three weddings on the same day, and you can work every weekend if you want.
In many markets, the catering season extends beyond the summer weddings. University towns have receptions, graduation ceremonies, and college reunions. Individuals have private parties for milestone events.
Corporations host Christmas parties, summer picnics, and other employee engagement events, though Jackie Spigener, owner of Silver Sycamore Events Resort, a wedding and entertainment venue in Pasadena, Texas, says corporate events have not fully returned.
There will always be more options if you live in a bigger city simply because the catering caters to multiple markets, but even in my part of New York state, I could get a shift every single weekend from May to October if I wanted.
Jobs in gastronomy
Catering jobs are bartenders, waiters and cooks. Bartending and cooking jobs usually go to people experienced in this role.
A typical catering shift lasts between 7-10 hours and you may need to drive to the location (I walked up to two hours but was paid for the travel time). The work is physical, the hours are long, and you will be on your feet all the time.
There are perks. At events in beautiful locations, you are a fly on the wall. Those who get bored quickly will appreciate the different working environments, as many caterers travel to several venues in the region.
“Catering is an extremely fun job because every event is different and you can see a lot of really cool locations and attend some great events,” says Daniel Wolfe, owner of Wolfe and Wine Catering in Houston.
Eating in the workplace
You will be fed from your shift; This can be the same meal that guests eat or a separate, simple meal. Food that has not been served to guests and would otherwise be wasted is usually found at the end of the night. I also took home wedding decorations, bouquets and opened wine bottles.
While it is helpful if you have previous experience, it is absolutely not necessary.
“All skills in the field of catering / gastronomy can be trained if the work ethic and personality for customer / guest service are available,” says Spigener.
Jobs in the catering side gig area
Depending on the size of the event, the caterer can require dozens of people. Some will need high-level cooking skills, but that’s not what you’re likely to be doing. Think of yours as the muscle, and when dealing with guests, a waiter with a good attitude.
There are jobs for people of all skill levels. For example:
Jobs for new employees
- Fill up the water glasses
- Cleaning up during cocktail hour
- Cleaning up after the event
Jobs for experienced employees
- Starters happen
- Maintain the bar
- Serve people at the main table
Even though I started out with a catering recruiting company, I wouldn’t recommend this. I was basically a temporary worker sent to strengthen the staff of catering agencies who made more money than me.
The agency contract forbade the hiring of temporary workers by a caterer for whom we had done temporary work, which kept us trapped in low-wage, throw-away jobs.
Addressing companies directly is the better option. While catering companies typically look for new employees in the spring, this year’s labor shortage means many of them are understaffed. You can find local caterers looking for a job on Craigslist or by searching for venues and catering companies in your market and contacting you directly.
If you know someone who works for a restaurant or hotel with banquet facilities, they may be able to recommend you to others.
How Much Money Can You Make From Catering?
Restaurant workers in most American markets receive shift pay well below the minimum wage and make most of their living from tips. Catering staff usually receive competitive hourly wages plus tips.
Because of the labor shortage in the hospitality industry, it is a labor market. Employers all have to hire staff at the same time, so companies have to compete for wages. Reach out to multiple companies at once, then choose one or more that pay the most.
The hourly wage
Wolfe currently pays $ 12-15 an hour for servers and $ 15 an hour for chefs. Bartenders make $ 10 an hour with the tip glass visible or $ 25 an hour without a tip glass. Wolfe says he pays after the cost of living and would likely pay 20 to 30 percent more if he was based in a market like California or New York.
Private party shifts tend to be shorter – skeleton crew working in (or off) someone’s home for a dinner service or cocktail party – but the chances of getting a direct tip at the end of the night increase significantly.
Spigener says she is currently starting out with $ 10 an hour of catering staff.
LaSonya Holmes-Boulware, owner of My Girls Catering and Food Truck in Greensboro, North Carolina, launches catering servers for $ 10 an hour and cooks for $ 15 an hour. Experienced workers can be paid more for working elite events.
What the bosses are looking for
When recruiting, Spigener pays attention to personality (“polite and well-mannered”) and willingness to participate. Wolfe values punctuality (because “a disgruntled customer is a lost customer”) and flexibility, as the end of the shift is difficult to predict.
Attention to detail, a good work ethic and a positive attitude are his most important skills. Holmes-Boulware seeks flexible working hours, like Wolfe, and prefers those who have previous experience with events.
I’ve worked in restaurants and for caterers. Catering has always paid me more per hour, in every market I’ve worked in. The seasonal nature of the job makes it an ideal part-time job. If you join a first-class caterer when there is a high demand, you can secure a lucrative side business for as long as you need or want it.
Penny Hoarder author Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley-based writer who specializes in food, professional counseling, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, NextAdvisor, Greatist, and others.