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Everybody has to eat. And on special occasions, food can make or break an event. If you are creative, like meeting a variety of people and can handle many tasks at once, there are career opportunities for you in catering.

Weddings, conferences, retirement parties and other special events usually aren't complete without food. Unless you can wave a magic wand and make an appetizing menu for hundreds of people appear out of nowhere, a caterer will probably be part of the planning.

Catering involves food preparation and serving. It also involves understanding each client's unique tastes for menu and atmosphere and providing them with an event to remember.

Ann Walker is a caterer from California. She learned almost by accident that she had abilities that could be turned into a profitable career as a caterer.

"In 1976, my husband and I were entertaining guests from England who had not been in the country for several years. We were having 20 to 30 people a day visiting us, and I was feeding them all!"

Walker spent six years learning everything she could about food and cooking. "I decided that I could get paid to do this and put an ad in the local paper. That was the last time that I ever advertised, except for a wedding guide that I keep an advertisement running in."

There are many things that Walker loves about her work. Her favorite thing is working with clients to create menus and help them realize their dreams.

According to Walker, successful caterers have intelligence, flexibility, people skills and the ability to follow through consistently.

Walker's business is well established, so she no longer does the cooking. She relies on her staff to make sure that everything is exactly as the client wants it.

"We have several accomplished chefs and excellent site staff, so I know that what I plan with the clients will be executed beautifully. I firmly believe in my staff, and they don't let me, or themselves, down."

She says that catering is a leap of faith. "We must believe that the food will be great, the staff and rentals will all arrive, it won't rain and the photographer, party planner, etc. will show up, do their job and...that everyone will have a great time."

Caterers just starting a business probably won't have a staff like Walker. But she also started small. "My business grew slowly," Walker says. "Good tools are necessary and expensive."

Since she started catering, Walker has seen many changes in the industry. She likes that her business is grounded in weddings.

"People are still getting married, having birthdays, babies and so on. Many caterers prefer corporate accounts, but I like the personal ones."

Walker prides herself on her customers' loyalty. "I catered my first wedding in 1976, and that couple are still my clients. I catered their children's bar mitzvahs, graduations, the parents' major birthdays and the grandparents' memorials."

Walker sees more communication affecting the industry. "The way that people plan their parties has become much more businesslike....I spend a lot more time revising menus endlessly. In the 1980s, a client would call up and we'd discuss their needs. I'd send out a proposal, and that was it. With e-mail and computers, there is a lot more exchange of information."

Amy Ho is an events manager for a hotel. She's also the president of a chapter of the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE). NACE represents executives in the catering industry and promotes catering as a profession. It offers a certification program to become recognized as a catering professional.

"Catering is now perceived as a profession, just like an accountant is considered a professional," says Ho. "People now say that they want to be a caterer or an event planner. They study and train to go into this profession. In the past, that wasn't the case."

Professionals in any field are usually willing to share advice with others about their work. Walker's final bit of advice comes from years of experience and her sense of humor.

"First of all, know that only crazy people go into restaurant work or catering," she jokes. "Seriously, it draws some very different people. I love them, but I'm very tolerant and have made my business an extension of my family."

She also adds that catering is not glamorous. "This is a service business, and you really need to enjoy taking care of people," she says.

"I always tell new staff to remember that catering is theater. We are creating an atmosphere for our clients. And behind the scenes, if anything is amiss, the client should never know about it. The client just wants to have a lovely catered event, and that's what you're there for."

Catering is a rewarding business that allows you to become an important part of people's memories. When someone leaves a catered event, says Ho, they don't leave with something to look at or touch. They are left with a feeling. Successful caterers create memories that last a lifetime.


How Catering Works
Get an overview of catering, and see if you have what it takes!

Ann Walker Catering
See Walker's business online

National Association for Catering and Events
An organization that represents the catering crowd

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