What Does Catering Really Mean?

This book focuses on small and mid-sized independent caterers and discusses in detail how they operate, attract customers, and grow. The catering industry is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry, involving tens of thousands of professionals and their staffs, serving millions of people a year.


According to Webster's Dictionary, catering means “to provide food and service for.” It's a general definition, and it leaves a lot unexplained. For our purposes, caterers are men and women who work in licensed commercial kitchens, who are properly insured, and who are trained and skilled in preparing and serving a variety of foods to groups of guests.

While “providing food and service for” seems simple enough, there's a lot that goes into properly catering an event for a client. A successful caterer combines business savvy, culinary wisdom, and event planning expertise into one seamless enterprise.

A Moving Company with Perishables

One of the best ways to think about the catering business is to think of it in terms of a moving business with perishables. When you're transporting a five-tiered wedding cake from your commercial kitchen to a client's home twenty miles away, you're in the moving business. There's a lot of equipment lugging and ingredient schlepping, and there's no way to get around it.

Not only do you have to move many delicate objects from point A to point B without breaking them, you also have to maintain their temperature to keep the food safe. You'll be feeding a lot of people, and the last thing you want is to cause anybody to get sick.


Perishable food must be kept at strict temperatures in order to be kept fresh and free from bacteria. You must keep foods out of the “danger zone” (40–140ºF), where dangerous bacteria can grow. Take extra precautions when you are transporting food over long distances.

The Caterer as Juggler

Being a caterer involves mastering a multitude of skills and juggling many tasks at once. Merely being a great cook and having a flair for entertaining isn't enough. This is what makes the catering business such a tricky one. A good caterer is a good chef, a deft mover, a skilled planner, an adroit salesperson and marketer, an able business person, and a charming customer service representative all in one.

Catering combines the physicality of cooking, transporting, setting up, serving, and cleaning with the mental demands of planning and executing. Catering is a service business, and you're only as good as your next job. While having a good reputation is important, you can't ride on it for long. It's a fiercely competitive market, and businesses don't last without a lot of hard work and sweat.

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