Catering for your future
As an enormous, wide-ranging sector, the catering and hospitality industry offers an array of opportunities and a strong framework for career progression. Could catering management be your calling?
The hospitality and catering industry encompasses a host of businesses, including hotels, restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs, contract catering, holiday parks, self-catering accommodation, private members’ clubs and visitor attractions. It’s a sector that offers job opportunities on a large scale. Despite this, it has been affected by people and skills shortages – perhaps as a result of anecdotal evidence that perpetuates the image of an industry beset by low wages, long hours and hard work. However, the truth is that there has been a drastic reduction over recent years in the number of working hours expected of catering managers, with responsible employers offering a 48-hour week with two clear days off. In addition to better working conditions, many companies offer outstanding performance-related bonuses, incentives, training opportunities and benefits.
Some national companies are reporting increases in overall sales and are therefore able to offer excellent employment packages. Such organisations are always on the lookout for quality candidates to join at supervisory and management levels, which is particularly good news for Service leavers. There are nationwide employment opportunities for those seeking a career in this area, which does not require a classic ‘hotel school’ education for new entrants, and many national companies are crying out for good-quality applicants.
Why work in catering?
It is a diverse sector that offers a host of opportunities to those thinking of pursuing a career it:
- the chance to progress – nearly every job in this sector offers you the chance to learn, improve your skills and move up the career ladder to the next level – and, historically, Service leavers are very good at this
- a dynamic and challenging industry – when you work in catering management no two days are ever the same, and opportunities exist both nationally and internationally
- a popular second career option – many people coming in to this industry have limited or no previous experience, but a Service background means that many of the skills required are already in place (see the box titled ‘Translate your skills’ later in the feature).
Although the sector offers an array of different jobs (such as kitchen and catering assistants, bar staff, chefs/cooks and waiting staff) this feature focuses on the responsibilities of those in supervisory roles, such as catering managers.
Catering managers plan, organise and develop the food and beverage services of organisations and businesses, while meeting food and hygiene standards, customer expectations and financial targets. Their role varies according to the size and nature of the business. In small establishments, catering managers usually have a hands-on position and are involved in the day-to-day running of the business. In larger organisations, they are usually assisted by other managers and supervisors in their handling of the different catering functions.
A catering manager might work in-house for an establishment such as a hospital, school, factory, prison, cruise ship, hotel chain, university or visitor attraction, or for a contract catering company, providing services to a range of clients.
In the early stages of their careers, catering managers are likely to work in a number of different roles in order to gain a broad range of experience – perhaps taking on a mixture of contract catering and in-house work. After that, they might move up to the position of assistant catering manager before progressing to the role of catering manager. Promotion prospects are good for those with ability, strong interpersonal skills and a high level of motivation.
Those catering managers that work for well-established companies could well enjoy a broader range of opportunities, and more support in terms of training and development. Some of the major hotel and catering chains also have operations overseas, so there could be opportunities to work abroad too.
There are also good prospects for self-employment as, once experienced enough, some catering managers might choose to work towards managing their own premises.
WHERE DO CATERING MANAGERS WORK?
This is a huge employment sector, so these are just a few examples:
- businesses and industry
- cruise ships
- local authorities
- retail outlets
- schools, colleges and higher education institutions
- tourist attractions.
WHAT DO CATERING MANAGERS DO?
The general day-to-day duties of a catering manager might include:
- planning menus
- advertising and recruitment of staff
- making sure staff are fully trained
- motivating staff
- organising shifts and rotas
- managing stock control
- financial planning and managing budgets
- meeting with suppliers and customers
- discussing contract requirements with customers
- monitoring the quality of the service to customers
- running the business in line with health and safety, food hygiene and nutritional regulations.
During food service, catering managers will also supervise kitchen and waiting staff, as well as making sure that the food goes out on time and is of a high standard.
TRANSLATE YOUR SKILLS
The skills required will depend on the type of organisation in which you wish to work, but there are some that are common to most catering management roles in the industry. These include:
- the ability to stay calm under pressure
- leadership by example
- commitment, energy and enthusiasm
- effective organisation of people
- strong desire to be successful
- ability to set targets … and beat them
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- strong time-management skills
- decision-making skills
- motivational skills, including the ability to build strong relationships with staff and customers
- financial, budgeting and stock-taking skills
- knowledge of food, food hygiene (including hazard analysis and critical control points, HACCP) and food preparation.
Skill up while serving
As all the Services employ catering staff, it is likely you will already have gained useful experience of working in a related role. In addition, professional qualifications in hospitality and catering can be gained while in uniform, through distance learning and online, which will prove useful if you are thinking about moving into a civilian career in this sector.
Catering managers require the ability to think quickly and use their initiative. New situations, changing customer requirements, and developments in equipment and work procedures require a constant willingness to learn and adapt. But, above all, your personality and approach to life are critical to success, which is why so many military personnel have the potential to make great catering managers.
You don’t need a degree or HND to become a catering manager, as relevant experience, skills and personal qualities are generally more important than qualifications. However, employers do value qualifications related to this area, such as those in:
- catering/culinary management
- hospitality management
- food science and technology
- hotel and restaurant management
- hospitality, leisure and tourism
- business/management studies
- food hygiene and safety (including HACCP).
To work as a catering manager, you not only need a thorough understanding of menu planning and nutrition, but also of the relevant business aspects, such as human resources management, customer service and financial management. A course in catering management will help to ensure that you have a solid understanding of these fundamental aspects. When you study such a course, you will gain the knowledge and skills you need to perform the role of a catering manager efficiently and effectively.
It’s also possible to train on the job via an apprenticeship in catering and hospitality, or by taking an NVQ/SVQ in catering and hospitality. Some employers will provide regular internal courses, or support with NVQs and other professional qualifications such as the level 4 Diploma in Hospitality, tailored professional development plans and even job swaps. Other employers (such as large contract catering companies and major hotel chains) run graduate training schemes, which usually accept students with a variety of degrees as long as they have a good grade.
There are many other related qualifications available.City & Guilds’ Food and Beverage Services qualifications are available at levels 1, 2 and 3, and aim to develop and demonstrate the knowledge and skills you need to find your first job in foodand beverage service, or progress into a supervisory or managerial role. Its Professional Food and Beverage Service qualification, also available at levels 1, 2 and 3, covers essential skills in areas like foodservice, foodsafety, handling payments, bookings, serving hot and cold beverages, bar service and menu design. These are just two examples of the many catering, and food safety-related qualifications offered by C&G and other providers. For full details of all courses offered by C&G, please visit its website (see Useful info).
Food safety and hygiene qualifications
It is particularly valuable for aspiring catering managers to hold a food hygiene and/or health and safety qualification – indeed many employers will expect this. If you don’t already have one, you may be required to take a qualification at level 2 or above in food safety and/or health and safety.
Because food safety and hygiene, and health and safety in the kitchen, form such an important part of the catering manager’s role, you would do well to consider studying for a level 3 qualification in this area. Those available include:
- Award in Food Safety
- Award in Food Safety in Catering
- Award in Supervising Food Safety
- Food Hygiene
- Supervising Food Safety in Catering.
Just to give you an idea, we’ll look at a couple of these in more detail …
Level 3 Food Hygiene
This course is designed for managers and supervisors in the catering industry, to help them understand their essential day-to-day responsibilities, including how to implement the basics of a HACCP food safety management system. It offers knowledge of food hygiene practice and legal responsibilities, and provides further detail on the controls that can be implemented to ensure that the food-handling process is as safe and hygienic as possible. The course provides learners with up-to-date knowledge of how to comply with food safety law. It explains how to promote best practice in the workplace and the basics of implementing a HACCP food safety management system.
Level 3 HACCP training course
By law, all food businesses must ensure that they implement an effective food safety management system in their premises, based on the principles of HACCP. This course is designed to help learners understand more about what’s involved in a successful HACCP food safety management system. It outlines each essential step of the HACCP planning process and aids understanding of how to identify food safety hazards, select relevant control measures and ensure the HACCP system continues to operate efficiently and effectively. It is recommended that learners take a level 3 Supervising Food Safety course before embarking on this one.
Level 3 courses such as those described above can later be built on with higher-level qualifications at level 4 and above, depending on employment progression, while before embarking on a level 3 course, it is often recommended to take a more basic course covering the same subject at level 2 in order to ensure a strong understanding and a thorough knowledge basis on which to build your qualifications portfolio.
The Independent’s website has a fully searchable list of food safety and hygiene-related courses here:
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.com and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features on this website.
Most entry-level management positions are at supervisory or assistant manager level. Ideally, you should aim for a first post that offers good all-round experience and a programme of training. Depending on your qualifications and previous experience, you might start as a catering assistant and then work your way up to the role of catering manager. As you gain experience and qualifications, you could take on more responsibilities and supervise less experienced colleagues. You could then apply for an assistant manager post and train while you are working.
To apply for an assistant manager job, or a trainee manager role, you will usually need a good standard of general education and some relevant experience.
Many catering companies run management trainee schemes that can lead to management roles. To be accepted on to such a scheme, you are likely to need a qualification such as a foundation degree or degree, or relevant experience.
Related experience is vital, so look out for part-time or seasonal work in catering outlets such as pubs, hotels, restaurants and fast-food chains. Work experience as a catering assistant or barista will give you the foundation of skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in catering.
Employers are particularly drawn to candidates with strong commercial sensibility, a determination to deliver excellence, and the motivation to contribute ideas and improve the profits of the organisation. They will also be looking for experience of people management – something that many Service leavers will have in spades – so any experience you have in a supervisory or team leader role will put you at an advantage.
See ‘Useful info’ for guidance on where to search for job vacancies.
Catering manager jobs in hotels are often advertised under the title of food and beverage manager
What can you earn?
Figures below are intended as a guide only.
- Assistant or trainee catering manager salaries typically range from £16,500 to £20,000.
- Catering managers can earn from £22,000 up to £45,000.
- Heads of catering and operations managers can earn in excess of £50,000.
Salaries vary depending on the size and type of organisation, job sector and region. In addition to salary, additional benefits may be included, such as a company pension and/or share scheme, health insurance, gym membership or a company car (for those in senior positions). Some organisations also offer bonuses.