In this section we'll look at how to become a catering event planner, including: who hires catering event planners, a catering event planner job description, career advice, employment information, and the pros and cons of catering event planning careers.
Event catering companies also hire event planners, of a sort. An event planner who works in-house at a catering company will project manage the event from a food, beverage, and service perspective.
This might include taking the client’s initial brief, providing input on the theme/concept, designing menus with the chef, making recommendations for drinks, preparing budgets and quotes, and working with the client to plan the service, running order, room layout and flow.
It also includes overseeing all the logistics, planning, and operations involved in the delivery of the food & beverage. This might involve client and venue liaison, site visits, and hiring kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, linen, glass, flat and tableware.
It could also include arranging staff and their uniforms, meals, and transport, or drawing up delivery, collection, and installation schedules, and preparing health & safety and food hygiene paperwork.
While some people might not consider it fully-fledged event planning, in that you aren’t organizing the entire event, it can be a great place to start your event planning career—especially if you want to work in special events, parties, and weddings.
The short answer is pretty much every catering company. However it’s worth highlighting that there are different types of catering companies, so it pays to do your research and target the ones that work on the type of events that most interest you.
Special event catering companies, such as Wolfgang Puck Catering, Along Came Mary, and Abigail Kirsch in the US or Rhubarb Food Design, Admirable Crichton, and Bubble Food in the UK, will work on high-profile events such as parties, weddings, brand marketing events, award ceremonies, launches, openings, retail events, fundraisers, and corporate events.
There is also another type of event catering, sometimes known as contract catering, banqueting, or hospitality, and these types of catering companies often specialize in large-scale events, such as trade shows, conventions, fairs & festivals, and large sporting events. In many cases they are in partnership with, or owned by, the same parent company that own certain venues, such as conference centers or sporting arenas.
Alternatively, they may have a contract to provide catering to certain venues on an exclusive or preferred supplier basis, which can run for several years at a time. Examples include Centerplate and Compass Group in both the UK and US. As these catering companies serve such large numbers, the style of food is often less creative and, in my opinion, more akin to above-average restaurant style food; looks and tastes perfectly fine, but functional rather than frou-frou.
Being an event planner at a catering company is a great way to start your career. Although you’re ultimately only responsible for planning one specific aspect of the event; the catering—and the knock-on effect that has with venue planning.
That said, it’s rather like a microcosm of the entire event planning process. There’s a huge amount of planning, logistics, and operations that goes on behind the scenes—it’s not just about choosing hors d'oeuvres and napkins!
Catering event planners have to be just as meticulous when it comes to project management and organization. In addition to designing all the front of house aspects, they have to make arrangements for food and equipment deliveries (including transport, load-in access, parking, and storage), design kitchen layouts and service routes, prepare food safety & hygiene paperwork (including risk assessments and method statements), and coordinate shifts for dozens, sometimes hundreds, of temporary bar, wait, and cloakroom staff.
Catering event planners often have to advise the client on timings, quantities, and how much space is required too, so it’s an opportunity to develop client management skills. Plus, many clients will be event planners and potential future employers—which provides great networking opportunities for career advancement.
There are also many occasions where a catering company will end up organizing the entire event. For less complicated events or parties for private individuals, the client will sometimes book a venue themselves and then go directly to a catering company, rather than hiring an event planner. Most catering companies have partnerships with other suppliers so that if there is no event planner involved, they will often position themselves to the client as a full service agency that can undertake all of the event planning—in addition to the catering.
Therefore, if you work as an event planner at a catering company, you will often have the opportunity to work on other areas of the event such as booking entertainment, tents, flowers and decorations, DJ’s and dancefloors, lighting and sound equipment, and invitation design and print. It’s perfectly possible to get experience of planning an entire event by working in catering.
Many special event planners start out working at a catering company, then move on to set up their own event planning business or go on to work for event planning companies.
As a catering event planner, you’ll not only get experience of the event planning process—without having to take full responsibility for some of the more trickier aspects of event planning until you’ve built up your confidence and experience—but you’ll also get a unique perspective of how an event runs on the day.
Catering event planners who stick around on-site at events (some hand-over to an operations manager once the event goes live) have a greater understanding of the ‘front of house’ experience; that is, seeing it from the guest’s perspective.
Catering staff are often the public face of the event. Guests don’t notice the event planner running around; when they need to interact with someone they usually head for one of the many wait staff or floor supervisors, because they’re more easily identifiable. Therefore a catering event planner can often judge the mood of an event far better than the main event planner.
I know when I organize an event I work very closely with the catering event planner when I’m on-site. They are my eyes and ears for how the event is unfolding while I’m running around backstage sorting things out.
The catering event planner is often the one who will tell me if guests are getting impatient, bored, or rowdy. They’ll hear first, from the wait staff, if someone makes a complaint about the air conditioning being too high or the music being too loud. They’ll often know first if there’s a problem with the table plan or if the champagne is running low. They’ll know if a guest is taken ill or if someone asks for a taxi so they can leave early.
By experiencing these things first hand, it teaches you the sort of things to plan for in advance; which will make you a much better event planner when it’s your time to organize the entire event.
Jobs as a catering event planner are generally more accessible to people just starting out in the industry. As you aren’t going to be responsible for planning the entire event, employers tend to be less strict when it comes to having previous experience in event planning—or even the event industry in general.
It’s perfectly possible to get as job as a catering event planner if you’re coming from a restaurant, hotel, venue, personal assistant, admin, or other service background.
In fact, for junior positions, a lot of caterers are more interested in how you present yourself—your people and communications skills—because you’re going to spend the majority of your time on the front line dealing with the company’s clients. They’re going to be asking themselves ‘Is this the type of person I’d feel comfortable representing our company to a client?’
The most important thing for the job seeker is not to be too proud. There can be a lot of snobbery in the industry, where event planners will look down on those working in catering or hotel conference & banqueting and refuse to recognize it as ‘proper event planning’—just because it doesn’t involve planning the entire event.
If you can rise above that sort of attitude and be comfortable with the fact you won’t necessarily be responsible for the whole event, then I personally believe that starting in catering or venue / hotel conference & banqueting is one of the easiest ways to become an event planner. You’ll get to learn on the job, without having to take full responsibility for the entire event, and you’ll get paid at the same time—whereas if you try to break into the industry as an event planner, in all likelihood, you’ll need to spend at least a few months, often more, doing unpaid work experience or an internship.
If you’re considering approaching catering companies, make sure you can demonstrate strong administrative and organizational skills, along with some customer-service experience and strong presentation skills; in terms of your appearance, speech and manner. Often, if you conduct yourself in a professional manner, are confident, articulate, well-spoken, and look polished, then a lack of direct event-planning skills and experience can sometimes be overlooked—because they can teach you the rest.
For more information on how to become a catering event planner, check out this site's companion book Become an Event Planner: Secrets for Getting Hired from Employers, Recruiters, and Event Professionals. Topics covered in the book include: