Male catering assistant being trained by chef on chopping up vegetables

What's it like to be a Catering Assistant?

Kadir’s story

Kadir has been working as a catering assistant for the last year and a half. Here’s his story.

What do you like about working as a catering assistant?

One of the best things about working as a catering assistant is learning from chefs. Most young people I’ve met who work in this role have ambitions to become a chef someday, and there’s no better way to learn from those with experience.

You also get to interact with customers, which is a plus, especially if you like meeting new people. You get the satisfaction of being part of a team that makes food people enjoy and seeing their responses when you take it out to the tables. It’s the best of both worlds.

What happens in a typical day working as a catering assistant?

It really depends on where you work. But there are a few things you’ll be expected to do on a typical day. You’re almost guaranteed to have to carry out basic food hygiene stuff, as well as unloading and loading the dishwasher. You also quite often prep food for service, though nothing too serious -- mainly chopping vegetables and making sandwiches.

If you’re doing an early shift in a hotel, you’ll also be making most of the food for breakfast which is great, as you know the food going out is yours. Whatever shift you do, you’ll also have to take food out the customers, as well as collecting dirty dishes. It’s a really varied job, and it changes every day, but that’s what makes it enjoyable.

What qualities would you say makes a great catering assistant?

Hygiene is really important to a catering assistant. Not only do you have to make sure that the kitchen is clean and ready for the chefs, but you also have to make sure you’re clean and presentable for customers when you take food to the table. Good social skills definitely help with customers, and you’ll need to be able to be very polite even when you’re busy.

Being flexible is a good skill to have too as you’ll be expected to be able to be involved at every stage in food preparation and service. One minute you could be making coffee, the next unloading the dishwasher. And wherever you work, you’ll need to be a hard worker. It’s an enjoyable job, but it definitely isn’t a walk in the park.

What are the biggest challenges you face in a typical week at work?

When you start at a new place, one of the hardest things is to familiarise yourself with is the policies for that place. Might not sound that difficult but they’re often quite different from each other. It takes a bit of time to get into a good routine. When it’s really busy, it can get very stressful too.

At events sometimes you’ve got six tables to look after, they may have allergies or are vegetarian or whatever, and you have to make sure none gets served anything that they’re either allergic to or will offend them. Unhappy customers can sometimes be rude too, but if you keep a positive attitude it’s easily resolved.

What are the hours like?

It really depends on which hours you request to work. If you work in a nursing home, you’ll never finish later than six o’clock. If you’re in a professional restaurant sometimes you can be working until midnight. The good thing is that as a catering assistant, there’s a lot of jobs out there, so you can pick and choose the right one for you. If this is your only job and you want to earn enough money to live you’ll probably be doing over 40 hours a week.

What types of establishments do you tend to work at e.g. cafes, hotels, gastropubs or other?

I’ve worked at football stadiums, pubs, pizza restaurants and hotels. There’s also work as a catering assistant in care homes and hospitals, one of my friends works in a company canteen too. The options are endless, and they all have their pros and cons. I’m really enjoying my current job working in a restaurant -- the late hours might not be for everyone though.

What advice would you give someone trying to get into your line of work?

Always be alert, stay calm and if you start to stress take a deep breath, it’s never as bad as it first seems. Use your initiative, pay attention to detail, and learn as much as you can from the chefs -- they have loads of knowledge to pass on if you’re looking for that. If you’re a good worker, they’ll take the time to help you grow.

But honestly, working in a kitchen environment is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. It’s hot, it’s loud, it’s noisy, but there’s such a good buzz, especially when it’s busy.

Why have you chosen to work as a temp in this line of work?

It gives me flexibility where I work, when I work and how I work. Temping in new places opens your eyes to how the catering world works, so the more temp jobs you get, the more you learn. Some of the chefs are really amazing and you get to meet new people all the time. At some point, I want to get a permanent job, but at the minute this suits me down to the ground.