If you’re a freelancer, a stay-at-home mom or dad, or even a nine-to-fiver looking for a side hustle to pick up on the weekends, you may be disappointed to find that most of your options offer low pay, demand extensive training or experience, and require long-term commitments you’re not prepared to make.
Look around next time you’re at a big event, like a wedding, and notice how many servers, cooks, bartenders, and managers that one event is employing. Catering is a huge industry and one you might consider getting into if that Etsy shop isn’t picking up steam. It might be the side hustle you’ve been waiting for.
Know Exactly What You’ll Make and When You’ll Make It
If you’ve ever worked as a server, you know how bad it feels to go home with empty pockets after working all night in a totally dead restaurant. Tipping is a custom practiced in very few countries in the world, and for good reason. Catering, however, is one of very few service industry jobs in the U.S. that’ll earn you tips on top of decent hourly pay.
Depending on your experience, catering staff can expect to make between $12 and $18 an hour, base pay, without tips. Sure, there are servers out there who have the occasional $300 night working in a restaurant, but average that with all the dead shifts, in addition to all the time spent after close cleaning for as low as $2.13 an hour, and your hourly pay as a restaurant server is actually pretty low. Not only that, but catering staff is rarely told to go home early since the bulk of the work happens in the last hour or so when things are getting broken down and packed up. On top of that, there’s a good chance the client will tip at the end of the night so you can go home with some cash in your pocket.
Not only are your hours more guaranteed than in most industry jobs, but depending on the company, catering offers more freedom than most jobs of similar pay. Typically, you’re either given access to an event calendar and can request shifts, or you’re requested to work specific shifts, which you can either accept or reject. Either way, you’re only obligated to work the shifts you’ve committed to, making it an excellent side job. Plus, when money gets tight during the holiday season, that’s when most shifts become available.
The Big Question: Do I Get to Eat the Food?
YES! And lots of it! Most people don’t realize the sheer amount of food waste produced by the catering industry. Running out of food before the last table is served is every client’s worst nightmare, so food is typically way overstocked. Not only that, but many venues require the caterer to haul their own trash off the premises at the end of the night. The more food in your stomach, the less food needs to be hauled out later. Your manager may actually be the one handing you a fork and begging you to chow down.
Believe it or not, even after all of the catering staff has filled their bellies, it’s not uncommon to have whole extra trays of food, and if you’re subtle about it, you can usually take some home with you and save a lot of money on groceries for the week. Catering companies don’t want the client to see leftover food being given away or thrown out, but if you bring your own Tupperware, and stow it away in your bag, most managers will be happy to let you put it to good use.
This was a HUGE perk for someone who loves food like I do. You get to eat some incredible food too! – Kelan T$C
Opportunities for Personal and Professional Growth
Many freelancers see themselves as part-time baristas or bartenders, but if you’ve never worked in the service industry before, those jobs can be tough to get without experience. Catering companies, however, have an extremely high turnover, and can’t risk being understaffed, so they’re always hiring newbies and are glad to help you add new things to your skillset, especially bartending. Cooking, plating, event design, and hospitality are also great skills to learn through catering, even if you’re just using them for the next party you throw at home. And, since you work at different locations and often with many different people, it’s also a great way to get to know a city and make new friends.
More Perks of the Job
- The Scenery – For weddings, in particular, you’re often working in gorgeous locations, and outdoors when the weather is nice.
- Scrap that Gym Membership – Bussing plates, breaking down tables, folding and unfolding chairs is a great workout, so strap on that Fitbit and get ready to be amazed.
- Paid Transportation – Depending on the company, they’ll often offer to cover gas or transportation for out of town venues. And if not, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to write it off on your taxes.
- Keep Your Bedtime – Unlike most service industry jobs, you won’t be forced to stay late unexpectedly. Many venues and vendors charge an overtime fee if the premises is occupied longer than planned, so once the “send off” is over, it’s a mad rush to get out. Clean up rarely takes over an hour.
- Hurry Up and Wait – Catering can be hard work, but there is also tons of downtime. Sometimes you won’t believe that you’re actually getting paid to sit around.
- A Crowd Pleaser – At a big celebration or party, people are generally in a good mood. Hosts are often too nervous, happy, or drunk to notice if anything goes amiss with the catering, and guests rarely have complaints since the money is not coming out of their wallet. Plus, eavesdropping on the ceremony, or hearing embarrassingly drunk relatives give speeches can be quite entertaining.
- Double Up – Unlike restaurants, bars, and cafes, catering companies will rarely consider it a conflict of interest if you work for two at the same time. It’s a great way to keep your options open and always have work when you need it.
Will Serving Others Serve You?
As side hustles go, catering is a pretty good one, but it really depends on your situation. Here are some of the potential downsides for you to consider before you apply:
- Butler Chic– Black dress pants, black button up shirt, black tie, black socks… this is the uniform. Designed to make you totally invisible, it’s about the least flattering outfit imaginable on either gender. Some catering companies are laxer with the attire, so maybe you’ll get lucky.
- Industry Lyfe – At the end of the day, catering is still a service industry job: long nights on your feet, dealing with people, working mostly on weekends, no guaranteed hours, no benefits, touching garbage and dirty dishes, etc… it comes with the territory.
- Heavy Lifting – Loading and unloading vans, rolling out tables, carrying heavy plates… for some, it’s like getting paid to go to the gym, for others, it’s a back ache waiting to happen.
- On Your Own – Most catering companies hire you as a private contractor. If you’re already a freelancer, then this is no big deal. But if not, then learning to file quarterly taxes is a whole new frontier you may not care to tackle.
- Love Becomes Meaningless – Just kidding. Not really. But once you’ve seen about 600 couples say “I do”, the moment does lose some of its magic. That said, next time you’re a guest at a wedding, you appreciate being served a whole lot more.
This article was written by Tori over at Catering Meal Prices.