Food is a passion of mine. I love to cook, and I love to eat. For those two reasons alone, I decided to become a caterer six years ago and have never looked back. On average, I spend about four days per week in the kitchen cooking delectable delights for the wedding season, business meetings during the weekdays, and parties for those who don’t have the time to cook. Some think caterers are simply waiters or line cooks that take food from restaurants and serve it as their own. While that may be true of some outfits, I own my own company and make reservations, market my business, cook the food, and even serve it to my customers.
Cooking is my passion and I can’t imagine any other line of work. My line of work is a perfect ten on a job satisfaction scale. The only thing that ever curbs my enthusiasm is clients who don’t appreciate creativity. I’m a creative person who experiments with all types of recipes and loves to delightfully surprise my customers. It brings a warm feeling to my heart when I receive compliments and a nice gratuity at the end of an event. Although there are times when customers can be stressful, each yummy sound, finger lick and verbal compliment lets me know that I have found my calling in life.
Unlike many in the catering business, I started in a restaurant and never went to culinary school. As a young man, I began washing dishes at the age of fourteen for a local restaurant. Intermittently, the cooks would need help in their food preparation and ask me to help. I worked in a great environment and after a few years was making $15 per hour for food preparation. I learned spices by taste, not through books. I learned frying, sautéing, and baking by sight, touch, and time. Some ask me why I never attended culinary school; I reply that I didn’t need to. Hands on experience was the best way I could learn in this industry, and it is one of the few industries that still doesn’t require post high school education.
Although I rose through the ranks fast, I did not understand the concept of humility, which would become a hard learned lesson. I began getting cocky, which is not good for a young person working around much older people. At one point, I had an employee tell the kitchen manager that he could not work with me because of my attitude. This really hurt my feelings because I felt I was being ambitious while others saw me as a braggart. I had to take a few steps back and even make a few apologies. After that incident, I once again gained the respect of my fellow workers and learned that ambition is not a bad thing but you must always respect those around you.
As a business owner in the catering industry, I have had some pretty bizarre experiences. The strangest experience came when a customer wanted to purchase all of my recipes. He said he would offer me twice my catering price. I felt pretty insulted although I simply replied with a simple “no thank you.” I don’t know why or how he could expect me to give me up way of life for such a small price. My catering business drives me to get out of bed each day. The smiles and customer satisfaction is what gives my life meaning and a sense of pride.
However, its not always fun and games. Sometimes I feel like screaming when I have a customer change the order at the last minute. There have been many times that I wanted to tell a customer no. The customer is most certainly not always right, although you always have to allow them to think they have the majority of control over a situation.
Another great aspect about catering and owning my own business is that I get to take a break when I need one. I rarely take breaks during my high season, which is during all major holidays and from early spring until after New Year’s Day. Winter is when I try to take a week or two off. By working around the client’s schedule, I am compensated very well for what I do and all things considered I truly only work five days per week so I am able to keep a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t revolve solely around work. Because I am a business owner, I make more than a general worker. However, most full time caterers are owners of their company and have a rough salary range of forty to sixty thousand dollars per year. In high end areas such as Los Angeles and Washington D.C., one may make well over one hundred thousand dollars per year as an owner. Generally, I pay my help between $9 to $12 per hour, plus we split the tips three ways.
I want my employees to have some restaurant experience under their belt. At the very minimum, my workers need to have wait staff experience. I have hired many friends to help me with some of the jobs and some have even expressed interest in working full time. However, cooking, marketing, customer service, and running a business in general is hard work so anyone looking to get into the business must have persistence. With the success of my business over the last six years, I hope within the next five years to begin looking for a more permanent residence in the form of a restaurant. Owning my own restaurant is a dream of mine that will hopefully become a reality.
From Cook to Caterer: Running a small business is no easy task. Hard work and ambition are the keys to success.