Caterer

  • Caterer

Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach; as anyone in the film industry knows, this is also true for the hundreds of people it takes to make a movie. Caterers are not just useful for providing massive quantities of delicious food at corporate events and weddings, but are also pivotal to the movie-making process, feeding everyone on the film set from the actors to the grips and all in between.


Duties

The duties of a caterer seem pretty straightforward: You cook some food and serve it to people. While this is true, catering requires a great deal more. Catering is different than running a restaurant in that caterers bring the food to the location that the customer requires, which often requires the use of large mobile kitchens and a staff of chefs and servers. Caterers usually begin by putting together a proposal for the producers, which goes over variables like the date and length of the shoot, the number of people to feed, and menu ideas. From this the caterer will be able to come up with a final budget for food and, equipment, and staff. On larger films, there may be full-service catering, which includes setting up the décor and layout, from linens and flatware to flowers, for added ambience; on smaller films, a caterer who can make something (delicious) out of nothing is a godsend. Once the details are set, the caterer can use any number of CAD-based software programs to help plan his or her attack. Meticulous planning and a very detailed schedule is crucial in order to meet the tight deadlines and unique demands of catering a movie set.

Once equipment and mobile kitchen are secured, it is time to set up, cook and serve. Feeding a crew on a movie set is a task that often begins before sunrise and lasts until sunset. Crew call can be as early as 5 a.m., with cooks arriving early enough to prepare the food. Catering breakfast usually takes a few hours and can include anything from Belgian waffles and pancakes to custom omelets, fruits, cereals, pastries, and gallons of strong coffee. After breakfast, the few hours until lunch give the catering staff a little time to break down the breakfast set-up, clean up, and start preparing lunch. Union rules require a large meal six hours after the crew arrives, and timeliness is crucial to the caterer. While meals are sometimes catered, the buffet layout is most common. A selection of entrees will be presented, and enough food to feed anywhere from a handful to several hundred crew members must be available. Lunch is the caterer’s moment to shine, as on movie sets it is considered the highlight of the day for the cast and the crew.

Skills & Education

Caterers almost always have experience in restaurants and other dining facilities before going into catering. Many caterers also obtain degrees from culinary institutes or technical schools. Business education is also a plus, as many of the planning, proposal, and bidding activities require at least a cursory knowledge of costs, expenses, staff management, and marketing. A detailed résumé that shows a wide range of culinary skills and experience will gain entrance into a catering company, though a beginning caterer may have to start out at a smaller company to start. A financial investment is required—equipment and serveware can be rented, but owning as much of your own rig as possible adds to profits. Some caterers are also licensed commercial drivers who can handle the big trailers that carry mobile kitchens, and in some states they must also be Teamsters. Mechanical skills are considered a plus, as there are sometimes kitchen equipment repairs that must be made on the spot. Caterers must also be sociable and easy to get along with, not to mention clean, as few people will hire a catering staff filled with unhygienic misanthropes. Finally, the single most important skill that any caterer can possess is the ability to cook a large quantity of tasty food in a minimal amount of time.

What to Expect

You can expect to be busy and tired. Caterers must be comfortable working in cramped and hot mobile kitchens while remaining congenial to cast and crew. You must be able to handle multiple food sensitivities and dietary restrictions with grace and flair. Shoots don’t always happen within the handy confines of a studio stage; you may find yourself stirring soup on a frozen tundra or flipping burgers at the beach. (Try not to get sand in the potato salad.) Cleanup of the serving station, dishes, and mobile kitchen, as well as the requisite paperwork, completes the 14-to-16-hour day for the caterer, then it’s time to restock for tomorrow’s meals. In the instance of a night shoot, you may be serving waffles at midnight and sleeping in the truck.

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