If you have a passion for food, are a strong leader and have good commercial awareness, a career in catering management could be for you

As a catering manager, you will plan, organise and develop the food and beverage services of organisations and businesses, while meeting customer expectations, food and hygiene standards, and financial targets.

The role varies according to the size and nature of the business. In a small establishment, you'll usually have a hands-on role and will be involved in the day-to-day running of the operation. In larger organisations, however, you may have the help of other managers and supervisors to handle the different catering functions and catering outlets.

Types of catering manager

Catering managers can work in-house for a variety of organisations, including hospitals, schools, factories, prisons, cruise ships, hotel chains, universities and visitor attractions, or they can work for a contract catering company providing services to a range of clients.

Catering manager jobs in hotels are often advertised as food and beverage manager.

Responsibilities

As a catering manager, you're likely to:

  • manage the food and beverage provision for functions and events
  • supervise catering and waiting staff at functions
  • plan menus in consultation with chefs
  • recruit and train permanent and casual staff
  • organise, lead and motivate the catering team
  • plan staff shifts and rotas
  • ensure health and safety regulations are strictly observed
  • budget and establish financial targets and forecasts
  • monitor the quality of the product and service provided
  • keep financial and administrative records
  • manage the payroll and monitor spending levels
  • maintain stock levels and order new supplies as required
  • interact with customers if involved with front of house work
  • liaise with suppliers and clients
  • negotiate contracts with customers, assess their requirements and ensure they're satisfied with the service delivered (in contract catering)
  • ensure compliance with all fire, licensing and employment regulations
  • maximise sales and meet profit and financial expectations.

In more senior posts, you're likely to:

  • oversee the management of facilities, e.g. checking event bookings and allocation of resources/staff
  • plan new promotions and initiatives, and contribute to business development
  • deal with staffing and client issues
  • keep abreast of trends and developments in the industry, such as menus or trends in consumer tastes.

Salary

  • Salaries for assistant or trainee catering managers typically range from £16,500 to £20,000.
  • As a catering manager you can earn £22,000, up to £45,000.
  • Heads of catering and operations managers can earn in excess of £50,000. Salaries for operations directors, usually with responsibility for a whole region and several operations managers, can range from £60,000 to over £100,000.

Salaries vary depending on the type and size of organisation you work for, the job sector and region.

In addition to your salary, you may get extra benefits such as a company pension and share scheme, health insurance, gym membership or a company car (for senior positions). Some organisations offer bonuses.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working in the hospitality industry can involve shift work with long and unsocial hours, including evenings and weekends. In hospitality service operations within business, industry and schools, you're more likely to work normal office hours.

What to expect

  • In larger organisations, the work tends to be office based, although you may be expected to spend some time working within busy restaurants and kitchens. However, in smaller organisations you may be expected to take a more hands-on approach.
  • Catering managers may be responsible for the catering of one site only or have overall responsibility for a number of sites (that have to be visited on a regular basis) with a number of assistant managers working under them.
  • Job opportunities are available throughout the UK.
  • The role is physically demanding and the pressures of providing a consistently good service can be challenging.
  • Travel within the working day can be a regular feature, but absence from home overnight or overseas work or travel is rare, unless working in an international role.

Qualifications

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, relevant degree and HND subjects include:

  • business or management studies
  • culinary arts or culinary management
  • food science and technology
  • hospitality management
  • hotel and catering management.

Some companies, for example the large contract catering companies and major hotel chains, run graduate training schemes, which usually accept students from a variety of degrees as long as they have a good grade.

It's possible to train on the job via an apprenticeship in catering and hospitality or by taking an NVQ/SVQ in catering and hospitality. The Level 4 Diploma in Hospitality is a management qualification and is equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree. Details of training opportunities are available from the Hospitality Guild Training Guide.

Depending on your qualifications and previous experience, you may start as a catering assistant and then work your way up to catering manager. 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.

You don't need a postgraduate qualification, although if you have a non-related degree you may choose to take a postgraduate qualification in hospitality management either before or after entry.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • the ability to think on your feet and take initiative
  • tact and diplomacy
  • teamworking skills
  • the ability to lead and motivate staff
  • administrative ability and IT literacy
  • numeracy and financial skills in order to manage a budget
  • an appreciation of customer expectations and commercial demands
  • stamina and the ability to work under pressure
  • a well-organised approach to work
  • flexibility and the ability to solve problems in a pressurised environment
  • customer-facing experience
  • experience in improving service delivery
  • drive and determination to improve standards and profitability.

Some employers will expect you to have a certificate in food hygiene and/or health and safety.

If you're working for an international hotel chain, language skills may be useful.

A driving licence is often required.

Work experience

Relevant 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 show you have the skills and knowledge to work in catering.

Employers are particularly drawn to candidates with strong commercial sense, a drive to deliver excellence and motivation to contribute ideas and upscale the profits of the organisation. They will also be looking for experience of people management, so any experience you have in a supervisory or team leader role will put you at an advantage.

Taking a placement year during your degree can also help you build up relevant experience and make good industry contacts.

Employers

You can either work in-house for an organisation's catering department or for a contract catering company that provides catering services to a range of clients.

Typical employers include:

  • armed forces
  • businesses and industry, e.g. large factories
  • cruise ships
  • hospitals
  • hotel chains
  • local authorities
  • prisons
  • retail outlets
  • schools, colleges and higher education institutions
  • tourist attractions and organisations such as the National Trust
  • youth hostels.

Look for job vacancies at:

The websites of major hotel groups, restaurant chains and contract catering companies will also advertise vacancies.

Professional development

Training varies depending on the sector and employer, so it's important to do your research when choosing where you want to work. Find out what prospective employers have to offer in the way of experience and training.

Some employers will provide regular internal courses, support with NVQs and other professional qualifications such as the Level 4 Diploma in Hospitality, tailored professional development plans and even job swaps. If you don't already have a qualification in food safety, you may be required to take a Level 2 or above in Food Safety and Health and Safety.

If you're on a graduate training scheme you will usually gain experience in a range of areas, including financial management, sales and marketing, human resource management and operations, before specialising in your chosen area. During this time you're able to learn from experienced colleagues and managers and may also take professional qualifications.

It's important to keep up to date with relevant skills and training in your sector. This can include attending courses and conferences, researching and reading the trade press. Managers looking to progress further into high-level management roles may take a postgraduate qualification, for example an MBA.

Career prospects

During the early stages of your career, you'll probably work in a number of different catering roles in order to gain a broad range of experience, perhaps doing a mixture of contract catering and in-house work.

You will normally start by working in a supervisory role, then move up to become assistant catering manager before progressing to the position of catering manager. Promotion prospects are generally good for those with ability, strong interpersonal skills and a high level of motivation.

From the role of catering manager, you can progress to head of catering or operations management roles. There are some opportunities to move on to catering director roles, where you may have responsibility for a whole region and team of operations managers. In hotel chains, there are opportunities to progress from food and beverage manager to director with strategic responsibility for the delivery of all food and beverage operations at the hotel.

Choosing to work for a well-established company can lead to a broader range of opportunities and greater support for training and development. Some of the larger hotels and catering organisations also operate overseas, so there are opportunities for foreign placements.

Once you have substantial experience, you may choose to set up your own contract catering business, supplying food to different organisations and businesses. Alternatively, you may wish to move into other areas of management, such as marketing, sales, human resource, training and facilities.