Regardless of pandemic and everything else happening in the world these days, people still enjoy meeting in a stylish venue, nicely dressed, enjoying some great food and drinks, and talking about both important and unimportant matters. Catering business may have suffered a blow, but it is here to stay for decades to come, with events of all sorts being organized daily in every major city. Would you like to manage the catering, and earn close to $4,000 monthly for your work? If you do, read further, because I will show you what to expect in your interview, and how you can impress the hiring manager with your words.
Let me start with bad news though. Catering manager is a popular job title with relatively low entry barrier. Degree from hospitality or business management is preferred, but not required. So is the experience in the field… What I try to convey here is that you will typically compete with many other people for the vacancy, because many can apply, and many will, especially once they see the word “manager” in the job title. This obviously makes your situation more difficult.
What’s more, the questions won’t be easy. Catering managers take care of variety of duties, ranging from planning the events and negotiating with all involved parties, through hiring and training catering staff, to overseeing the catering directly at the events. One may face many challenges in the job, and it should not surprise you that they will inquire about your way of addressing such challenges. Let’s proceed to the questions.
Why do you want to work as a Catering Manager?
Try to cover two things in your answer. First one, what you can bring onboard. Second one, what you like about the job. Starting with the second one, you can say that you love the variety of duties. One can learn a lot in this job, and it is in no way repetitive. Each event is unique, and though you follow similar processes every time (planning, budgeting, negotiating, hiring, etc) you always deal with new people and new conditions, which makes for a fascinating job and a great learning experience.
But you have other reason why you decided to apply–because you consider yourself an excellent candidate for the job. You have some experience in catering, perhaps even relevant education. You participated in many events–in different roles, and understand first hand the challenges a catering company can face during them. What’s more, you have excellent planning and organizational skills, and believe to have what it takes to manage the catering successfully.
To sum it up, considering your skills, experience, personality, and preferences, job of a catering manager seems like the best possible choice for you, at least at this stage of your professional career.
How do you imagine your typical day in work of a catering manager?
The key is to mention two things. First one is the variety of duties. Second one is your direct participation on the events. Ensure them that you do not expect to work only from nine to five. On the contrary, you want to be present at the events and make sure that your staff delivers an unforgettable dining experience to the participants.
When it comes to your daily duties, you can start by saying a typical day does not really exist in this job. Because what you will devote yourself to depends on deadlines and schedule of events. On some days you may spend your entire day planning and budgeting upcoming events, including menus, equipment, food, staff etc. On other days you will be hiring and training staff. And some days you will spend outside of your office, in the venue, overseeing the preparations, and eventually the catering during the event.
Tell them that one thing you like about this job is the variety, and that one has always something to do. Ensure them that you know challenges will always present themselves. You won’t find enough staff, food delivery will be delayed, customers won’t agree with your budget, something unexpected will happen during the event, etc. And as a great catering manager you will promptly react to these challenges.
Can you tell us more about your experience in the field of catering?
Experience in the field isn’t necessarily required, but it is a big plus. Once you describe the roles you had in the field and principal duties, I suggest you to pick a particular event, one you organized or helped to organize, and describe the process briefly, from start to finish.
This entails initial negotiations with the customers, budgeting and planning, negotiating the prices with vendors, ordering food and hiring and training staff, overseeing seating arrangements, the serving of meals and beverages, and the clearing of tables, tracking all expenses, addressing challenges that you faced, and so on, and so forth. Describing the process, you send over a clear sign that you know what you are talking about, and have real experience with organizing and managing similar events, regardless of your former job title.
And if you have never worked in catering, try to look for similarities with your former job. Everything relates to everything after all. In any managerial role you manage people and resources, and face some challenges in the process. You did this or that, and for sure you’ll have to learn new things to succeed in catering management. But you believe that your managerial experience can be successfully transitioned into your career in catering management. The key is to show confidence in your abilities, regardless of lack of relevant experience.
In your opinion, what challenges can you face while managing catering at a big event?
The key is to point out many different challenges and demonstrate that you understand the complexity of the job. You can also elaborate on each challenge, saying what you would do to address it, or to prevent the problem from happening. The principal challenges to mention are:
- Budgeting challenges. Customer expects certain level of services but does not have budget to cover it.
- Planning challenges. Considering the type of event and the venue, and time allocated for eating, it may be hard to plan the menus and the seating arrangements.
- Staff challenges. Definitely the most common type, you may struggle to find enough people, or you won’t have a budget, or you get only inexperienced people and will have little time to train them, and so on, and so forth. As every business person knows, their people are their greatest asset and the greatest trouble at the same time.
- Health industry regulations challenges. At some events and venues it may be extremely hard to adhere to all safety and hygiene regulations.
- Operative challenges. These are often the trickiest, because you have little time to address them. Two waitress do not come to the venue and you cannot reach them on the phone. Food delivery is delayed. A cook messes up the preparation and you have no desert for the guests. And so on, and so forth.
Ensure the hiring manager that you count with experiencing challenges, and will do what you can to address them promptly and effectively.
Tell us about a time when you had to make a split-second decision
With this question they are targeting exactly the operative challenges we talked about in the last question. Because once everything is planned and leased and organized, and you are in the midst of an event an something unexpected happens, you do not have a luxury of time. Guest are hungry and thirsty and waiting, and you have to react to the situation immediately.
Whatever situation you pick, ensure them that you do not crack under pressure. What’s more, you have in your mind remedies for the most common challenges, such as what to do when there is a problem with this or that staff member, or when some delay occurs. Counting with these challenges, and thinking about them in advance, you typically do not struggle with making split second decisions once something happens in an event. And then you should narrate one such situation you experienced in one of your former jobs…
Other questions you may face in your Catering Manager job interview
- What types of events do you have experience with when it comes to managing and organizing catering?
- Do you have any experience with catering management systems and other software tools that help us in our work?
- Tell me about a bad hire you made in the past.
- Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline.
- What’s the best catering project you’ve ever worked on?
- Describe a time when you did not know how to solve a problem.
- Many people apply for this job. Why should we hire you, and not one of the other applicants?
- What are your salary expectations?
Interview for a job of a catering manager belongs to difficult interviews. You will typically compete with many other people for this fancy job, all of them hungry to succeed. What’s more, the variety of duties you will be responsible for reflects on the variety of questions you may face in this interview. As you can see on my selection, some of them are far from easy…
In any case, luck favors the prepared mind. Go through the questions once again, think about each one, and do not forget to learn as much as you can about your future employer–the events they typically organize, cuisine they specialize in, values they promote, and so on. It will help you to come up with right answers to some of their questions. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!
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