12 March 2013

Catering staff can work in a range of facilities in heritage sites, including restaurants, cafes and kiosks. They may also cater for events and functions.

Working with food and drink supplies is one of the tasks that catering includes. Image: RBG Kew.
Working with food and drink supplies is one of the tasks that catering includes. Image: RBG Kew.

What is the work like?

Many museums and other heritage sites which are open to the public offer catering facilities. These could include:

  • kiosks selling ice creams or drinks
  • cafes
  • restaurants.

Some museums and heritage sites also cater for large events. The events may be private functions, such as weddings, where guests have hired the venue. The venue itself may also host events. These might be special, one-off or seasonal events, such as Christmas fairs, summer pageants, music concerts or festivals.

In smaller venues, staff may also have retail or admissions and bookings duties.

Staff are likely to be busy and most jobs mean being on your feet a lot.

In some cases the catering staff are directly employed by the organisation which owns and runs the venue. Other catering staff work for a private company which has a contract for the catering.

At some venues the catering is linked to the heritage of the venue or uses locally-sourced produce.

What do catering staff do?

Catering roles at heritage venues vary according to the type of catering offered. Staff may be front of house, dealing with the customers. For example:

  • catering assistants who do simple food and drink preparation, operate tills and clear tables
  • waiting staff who take orders at tables and serve food
  • bar staff who serve drinks from the bar and may serve wine and other drinks at tables.

Kitchen staff can include:

  • kitchen porters who prepare food, wash dishes and clean the kitchens
  • chefs who create dishes and menus and cook the food.

Depending on the size and scale of the catering, there are also supervisors and managers. Their duties could be:

  • day-to-day management of catering staff
  • planning the catering for the venue
  • organising events at the venue
  • meeting customers to plan events, such as weddings
  • dealing with food and drink suppliers
  • developing the business by promoting the venue or creating new ideas for events.

Catering staff usually work indoors, and conditions in kitchens may be hot and cramped. Staff are likely to be busy and most jobs mean being on your feet a lot. Some staff may work outside, in a small kiosk or at an outdoor cafe, for example.

In catering, the hours can be long. Working hours will be linked to the opening hours of the venue. They may be longer if there is an event on.

You are likely to work weekends and bank holidays. Some staff are part-time, perhaps working evenings or weekends. If you work for a company which caters for events, you may not work regular hours. The company may only call you in for particular events.

Catering staff wear protective clothing when handling food and drink. There may be a uniform, especially for front of house staff. In some heritage sites, staff may wear costumes linked to the history of the site.

How do I get into catering?

You need to have excellent customer service skills for any front of house job. For catering, need to be aware of food hygiene. It may help to have an interest in the history of the venue as customers may ask you questions.

You need to be 18 to sell alcohol, so some places which have a bar only take on over-18s.

Some heritage venues may not be near public transport links, so you may need your own transport.

What training or qualifications do I need?

You can start as a kitchen porter or catering assistant with little or no experience. A qualification in customer service may be useful (such as NVQ level 1 or 2).

If you want to move into more senior roles, most colleges offer a range of catering qualifications such as:

  • HND
  • NVQ level 2 or 3
  • Diplomas, Awards and Certificates.

as well as 

  • food hygiene certificates at level 1, 2 or 3.

There are apprenticeships in catering, customer service and hospitality.

Supervisors or managers may have a degree in hospitality, catering, catering management or event management. You can start on a graduate training scheme with a heritage organisation or a catering company.

If you start in a front-of-house role, you could be promoted to team leader and then become a manager. Kitchen staff can progress from assistant (or ‘sous’) chef to head chef. Your promotion prospects may depend on the size of the venue. You may have to change employers to progress.

What will I earn?

Catering assistants and kitchen porters usually earn the minimum wage.

Assistant chefs may start at around £16,000. Head chefs can earn up to £30,000.

Catering managers may earn from £22,000. Salaries can rise to £50,000 for a regional catering manager.

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