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Thoughts on catering

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I was wondering if any of you guys and gals love catering but hate restaurant work? I mean, I know there are many similarities, but there are also some key differences.

I love being busy and getting in "the zone," but I'm just not sure I'm ever going to get used to the frenzy and rush/panic that goes along with working in a busy restaurant during dinner service. Not that catering doesn't get crazy and hectic, but there seems to be more planning involved, along with less variables that go along with a busy dinner service at a restaurant. I have only had a short experience thus far in commercial kitchens, but I'm wondering if there are people who are just better suited for catering while others are better suited for a la carte?

So, are there some of you who love catering but wouldn't care to ever work for a busy restaurant again?
post #2 of 14
I my self love working in a busy restaurant environment although it is essential to get experience in both fields, i like the pressure the rush i get a kick out of it i love putting out nice plates of food that when people look at them say wow
post #3 of 14
When I was much younger,I was on an apprenticeship program run by Hotel Association in NY. They sent me to the Friars Club. This was an upscale club for showbiz people. At lunch we would go crazy then nothing till 6pm.
On one or two occassions I worked for a caterer who did real volume. It also was hurry up and wait. However I realized this is where the $ is. In a restaurant you spend all day wondering how many covers you will do where-as in catering you know what you will do and bang its over..I stayed in catering for 40 years and loved it. I was chef in the largest catering facility in the U.S. In season doing 10000 covers a week 6 parties at one time. It was never the same twice or boreing and I would do it over again.
The prestige may be in a restaurant, but the money is in volume catering.
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post #4 of 14
There's an incredible amount of stress when you're running a catering job. If you, as a chef or other employee in a restaurant and screw up a meal or a whole table of meals, chances are you're not a black mark on the biggest day of a person's life. I always have a knot in my stomach especially when doing weddings that something will go wrong and the bride and groom's big day will be affected because of me.

That said, I really liked working in restaurants. I've never cooked in a big, fast paced place, though. I liked catering from the first time I worked a banquet in a big hotel. It was a big push, then it was over. Not so much now since I own the business....IT seems that it's never really over for me.:crazy:
post #5 of 14
If there's one person on this forum who can make sense of this question, it's durangojo. Her cooking straddles restaurant and catering in a way few careers ever do. If she doesn't jump into the thread, shoot her PM asking her to contribute.

There aren't any absolutes. Restaurants are different from one another. Catering employers differ as much. Even the experience of running your own catering company is dependent on region, the types of events you do, and the clientele which ends up selecting you and (to some extent) the way that selection controls your business as much as you.

In my experience, the pace of restaurants and catering jobs is different. As you already noted, restaurant work comes in wild pulses. When the crush hits, you try and find that peaceful spot inside, and go into mad frenzy mode outside. It takes a while, but you actually get used to it. OTOH, you can control the pace of catering work and just keep chipping away. That is, you can control it if you have it. A slow night on a restaurant is kick-back. An un-booked weekend for a caterer is no money.

The cooking demands are a lot different. If it's your catering company, there's a lot more creativity than in (almost) any line job. But you can (almost always) work at a higher level of execution in a (good) restaurant than you can catering. It's not an absolute, but for a five person staff to have 200 covers move out of the kitchen in a 15 minute period is hard on the execution of any given plate. You have to cook and plate to a common denominator. The same crew in a restaurant will put out 20 or 30 covers -- every one perfect, a minute, and "as madame prefers." Very satisfying.

The physical demands are different too. It's not something you think about, but at least compared to the restaurants I worked in, catering is heavier work.

The most satisfaction I ever had cooking professionally was catering small parties with demanding and eclectic menus -- not because I cooked better (I didn't), or made more money (by that time, it wasn't really my main source of income), or rubbed shoulders with famous clients (my other job was in show biz, celebrities aren't any more impressive offstage than they are on - on they do what they're told, off they're clients, covers or friends); but because it was my ideas, my execution and it was small enough that I was more involved in cooking than managing. Cooking something "good enough" left (and still leaves) me cold. If I'm making popcorn, I'm making great popcorn, and I love doing it.

It's worth experiencing both types of cooking before you make whatever choice you have the freedom to make. You know, sometimes it's not up to you, sometimes you just take the first job that sounds good and ride the wave.

Kowabunga,
BDL
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all of the insightful views, everyone. I think I'm going to go with this apprenticeship at the restaurant. The frantic dinner rush seems intimidating, but I'm also very new... If it wasn't a little nerve racking, something would be wrong, right? The awesome thing is that there's also an in-house catering department, so who knows. I'm excited none-the-less. :)
post #7 of 14
If I were just starting out, I would most certainly take the restaurant job. There's so much to learn from that environment, not the least is what BDL mentioned about keeping your center while the rest of the place is in chaos. That's an invaluable skill no matter what aspect of the business you end up in!

Catering is as much front of the house as back of the house. It's important to understand both aspects especially if you're running the job or if, as a valued employee, you can work both.

As I said, I never cooked in a fast paced restaurant. In fact I hated cooking until I was about 30- prided myself on not being able to boil water. Something changed then and I can't get enough of the kitchen now. I started in vegetarian or "hippie-type" home cookin' places. What I was able to bring to some of those laid back operations was my front of the house experience. One was so laid back that one server waited tables in bare feet. (she said she wasn't touching the food with her feet, was she?:cry:). I rec'd a call one day from a customer who had found a hair in her take out meal the day before. The owner told me to tell her it was "vegan protein". No lie! I told the woman to come in and we'd comp her a meal. She wouldn't ever have returned and would have told all her friends of the negative experience if I had followed the owner's recommendation.'

Best of luck to you!
post #8 of 14
offsite catering is all about the shlepping.....just imagine building a kitchen in a field with no running water/electricity etc......or walking into a new space all the time.

Restaurants....would only consider something that had a product based menu.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #9 of 14
We used to call off premise catering "Gypsey Catering" because we were never in same place twice in a week. It is hard, you have to be able to think quick and improvise. Ask any rest. operator, what if you ran out of water, your oven blew out from winds, you have no fridge, what would they do????. Plus you have to check and double check evrerything because where your going you may not be able to get it.
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post #10 of 14
Ed's comment reminded me of bygone youth. I'll keep this nameless, just in case. I was working as a grip on a picture in the late seventies, that shot at numerous locations along the Mississippi river and and a number of its tributaries. The on-site caterer hired for several locations did not meet the crew's hygiene expectations -- which weren't particularly high, let me tell you. He ignored several warnings to change, as did the line-producer who ignored our requests to get someone who wouldn't poison us, until finally we took remedial action.

Imagine Chef Ed asking, "Okay, Mr. Restaurant owner. That's your truck upside down in the Mississippi river. What do you do???"

BDL
post #11 of 14
I'm with Ed.
post #12 of 14
And wondering when the viet cong or nva is about start attacking with mortars and/or 122 rockets......
post #13 of 14
I have done 2 off-site catering events for friends Our chef me and a senior chef dont it together it went smooth although i would not want to do it for a thrid time working in someone elses home/kitchen takes its toll it's quite stressfull but i here they paid very good money, money is always motervation for eveyone
post #14 of 14
"Drain that river and lets start moving or we will be late, and make sure that stuff is dry" What do you mean you cant drain it? "We are caterers we can do anything" The we are caterers quote came from the owner of the largest catering facility in NY. I never will foret it. Possible maybe? attitude GREAT.
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