More couples are feeling safe enough to tie the knot now that we are two years removed from the start of the COVID pandemic.
Following an already booming 2021, which saw nearly 2 million weddings across the country, this year is projected to have the most weddings since 1984 (The Wedding Report). That means about 2.5 million couples will be saying, “I do.”
This is great news for catering companies, whose income evaporated in 2020 and has slowly come back to life over the last year. It can also be great news for your wallet if you explore lucrative yet underappreciated catering side gigs.
The money is consistent and the perks, if you work for the right caterer, add up. You might even get to eat catering leftovers all week which could even put more cash in your pocket.
If that sounds attractive to you, then catering might be your gig. Here’s how to get started in catering, how much extra cash you can make catering, plus what skills caterers need right now.
How to Find Local Catering Business Side Gigs
Event caterers are everywhere: big cities, college towns, and rural areas cashing in on the rustic wedding trend. Wherever you go, you’ll find a local catering business. If you find yourself in between jobs, catering income can give you a buffer until you land something else. If you’re lucky, you might even get a gig with ocean views.
Plus, the jobs are often on Friday nights or weekends anytime, a bonus for a Monday-through-Friday worker looking to bring in more money.
Given the part-time, seasonal nature of the industry, workers tend to come and go. As a result, catering companies are often hiring. Many caterers love working with college students who are home for the summer or teachers looking for extra cash on their summers off.
Keep in mind, though, that the traditional wedding season begins in spring and lasts through early fall. The peak tends to be in June and September. However, in more temperate or humid climates, winter weddings are popular so caterers are hiring for staff year-round. So, there’s work to be had for more than students looking for summer gigs.
During the wedding season, the best catering companies will have two to three weddings on the same day and you’ll be able to work every weekend if you want.
In many markets, the catering season extends beyond summer weddings. University towns have receptions, graduations, and college reunions. Individuals have private parties for milestone events.
Companies host corporate events — like holiday parties, food truck outings, summer picnics, and other employee engagement opportunities, all of which were called off during 2020 but have slowly made a comeback.
There will always be more opportunities if you live in a bigger city, simply because catering will serve multiple markets. But even in less populated areas, you can still get shifts.
Jobs in Catering
Catering staff include bartenders, servers and cooks. Bartender and cook jobs tend to go to people with previous experience in that role. But it’s good to know if cooking and mixing drinks aren’t your thing, catering work could still be the best hustle for you.
A typical catering shift lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 hours and you may need to travel to the location (you’re usually paid for travel time). The work is physical, the hours are long, and you’ll be on your feet the entire time.
There are perks. You’ll be a fly on the wall at events held in beautiful locations. If you’re the sort who gets bored easily, you’ll appreciate having different work environments, since many caterers travel to several event venues in the region. And sometimes, you get to eat some pretty good meals.
“Catering is an extremely fun job as every event is different, and you can see a lot of really cool venues and be a part of some amazing events,” says Daniel Wolfe, owner of Wolfe and Wine Catering in Houston.
Eating on the Job
You’ll be fed on your shift; this might be the same food guests are eating or a separate, simple meal. Catering leftovers that were not served to the guests and would otherwise be wasted are typically up for grabs at the end of the night. You might even get to take home wedding decor, bouquets, and opened bottles of wine.
While it helps if you have previous experience, this is absolutely not necessary.
“All of the catering/food serving skills can be trained if the work ethic and personality for customer/guest service is there,” says Jackie Spigener, owner of Silver Sycamore Events Resort, a wedding and event venue in Pasadena, Texas.
Catering Side Gig Jobs
Depending on how big the event is, the caterer could need dozens of people on the catering staff. Some will need high-level culinary skills, but that’s not what you will probably be doing. Think of yourself as the muscle and, if you’re dealing with guests, a server with a good attitude.
There are positions for people of all skill levels. For example:
Jobs for New Hires
- Refill water glasses
- Clean up during cocktail hour
- Clean up after event
Jobs for Experienced Workers
- Pass appetizers
- Tend the bar
- Serve people sitting at head table
While you can work for a staffing company, the better option is to approach companies directly. While catering companies are typically looking to hire in spring, the recent labor shortage means that many are understaffed. You can find local caterers who are looking to hire on Craigslist or by searching for event venues and catering companies in your market and reaching out directly.
If you know someone who works for a restaurant or hotel that has a banquet facility, they may be able to refer you. Any experience you have in the food service industry will always be a bonus.
How Much Money Can You Make Catering?
Restaurant workers in most American markets receive a well-below-minimum-wage shift payment and make most of their money in tips. Catering staff tend to be paid competitive hourly wages, plus tips.
Thanks to the hospitality industry labor shortage, it’s a worker’s market. Employers all need to staff up at the same time, so companies have to compete on wages. Reach out to several companies at the same time, then take your pick of one or more catering jobs that pay the most.
Wolfe currently pays $12-$15 per hour for servers and $15 per hour for cooks. Bartenders earn $10 per hour with a tip jar visible or $25 per hour with no tip jar. Wolfe says he pays based on the cost of living and would probably pay 20 to 30 percent more if he were located in a market like California or New York.
Private party shifts tend to be shorter — a skeleton crew will be working in (or outside) someone’s home for a dinner service or cocktail party — but the odds of a direct cash tip at the end of the night increase significantly.
Spigener, the Texas event planner, says she currently starts catering staff at $10 per hour.
LaSonya Holmes-Boulware, who owns My Girls Catering and Food Truck in Greensboro, North Carolina, starts catering servers at $10 per hour and cooks at $15 per hour. Experienced catering staff can be paid more for working elite events.
What the Bosses Are Looking For
When hiring, Spigener looks for personality (“courteous and mannered well”) and a willingness to pitch in. Wolfe values punctuality (because “an upset client is a lost client”) and flexibility, since it’s difficult to predict when shifts will end.
Attention to detail, a good work ethic, and a positive attitude are his top desired skills. Holmes-Boulware seeks out people who are willing to work flexible schedules, like Wolfe, and prefers those who have prior experience with events.
The seasonal nature of catering makes it an ideal side hustle to make extra money. If you can get in with a top-notch caterer now, when the need is high, you can secure a lucrative side hustle for as long as you need or want one.
The Penny Hoarder contributor Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley-based writer who specializes in food, freelancing advice, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, NextAdvisor, Greatist, and more. Staff writer Robert Bruce contributed to this report.