Are you striving for a career in catering? Know the secrets to throwing a party and feeding an army?
Catering is one of the most popular hospitality jobs that comes with a wide range of responsibilities such as event food preparation, table setup, menu arrangement and decorating. Ultimately, the success of a caterer is very much dependent on the guests’ experience, which can be both a pleasure and pain.
If this sounds like a career you want to embark on, there are indeed several job opportunities in the market. But it’s all about getting past that nerve-wracking job interview.
Before the big day, it’s best advised that you acquaint yourself with the most common catering interview questions. And you’re in luck because we’ve gathered a list of the top 10 questions with an in-depth explanation of how to answer each one.
1. ‘Tell us about yourself.’
This commonly asked question is more of an ice-breaker, but it’s still extremely important in giving off a good first impression and setting the tone for the rest of the interview. Give a brief overview of your résumé, including skills, experience and achievements, and tell the interviewer why you chose catering as a career.
What excites you about the culinary field? Have you got a passion for banquet arrangement? Do you love cooking, and are you eager to treat guests to your foods? Convey your skills and interests but also use examples from your personal life and experience.
Our interview tip? Practise answering this question with a friend or in a mirror beforehand!
2. ‘What experience do you have in catering or hospitality?’
Whether you’ve worked in school catering, flight catering, wedding planning or as a chef, now is the time to truly brag about your work experience. The interviewing panel will want to hear about your background in customer service, so aim to discuss your devotion to serving guests and your willingness to put others first. Highlight the skills you brought on board in previous jobs and, most importantly, portray a friendly character. Catering is all about dealing with customers, after all.
If you have little or no experience in catering, engage your interviewer by talking about your passion for food, hospitality and service.
3. ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’
When summarising your strengths, try to refer to ones that might be valuable to the company. Are you a great problem-solver? Can you perform under pressure at events? Have you created your own signature dish?
However, don’t exaggerate as you might come across too boastful. Be cautious when you disclose your weaknesses by being honest and highlighting how you have tried to overcome these flaws. An example answer might be: ‘I initially panic a little bit in chaotic environments but, afterwards, I’m able to manage my nerves and work on my problem-solving skills.’
4. ‘How do you handle working under pressure?’
If you want to become a caterer, you have to be able to stand the heat in the kitchen. Preparing menus, setting up tables and cooking the finest meals isn’t the easiest of jobs, after all. If you’ve experienced prior stressful situations, talk about how you managed to get through them. Mention your organisational skills and your ability to prioritise and stay calm in chaotic situations.
Perhaps you once dealt with a chef who messed up the menu? Or maybe your staff spilt drinks all over the guests at a wedding? Whatever the case, make sure you explain how you stayed focused and organised and how you maintained a calm demeanour when addressing the problem and dealing with unhappy customers.
That brings us to the next catering interview question…
5. ‘How do you handle difficult customers?’
Dealing with unhappy and difficult customers is extremely common in catering. After all, customers want their functions handled by an experienced team of food and event professionals.
Your response to this question will say a lot about your level of patience and tolerance – two key skills required for a catering role. If something went wrong in your previous catering job, elaborate on how you maintained a professional attitude and dealt with the customer in a calm and reassuring manner. Explain that you understand catering is a sensitive industry that requires consideration when accommodating customer tastes and needs. Ultimately, showcase your planning, coordination and communication skills, and convey your listening abilities.
6. ‘How do you work within a team?’
Whether you’re applying for a catering assistant or catering manager role, this job will almost definitely entail a lot of teamwork. This might be with kitchen staff, decorators, menu planners, and so on. Your potential employer will want to know if you’re a team player who can communicate well with coworkers and management.
Take the opportunity to unveil your interpersonal and leadership skills by referring to an experience at a previous job or even at university. You want to portray yourself as responsible, accountable and inclusive.
7. ‘How do you perceive food handling?’
This may sound like a straightforward question but, really, the interviewing panel wants to see how aware you are of health and food safety guidelines. Maintaining hygiene in all culinary jobs is extremely crucial, so make sure you display your understanding of this to your potential employer.
Explain your responsibility of abiding by government food safety and public health guidelines by wearing protective gear (like hair nets) or using certain food storing methods. Clarify that health and safety is a priority and that you are committed to keeping a clean and sanitary environment at work.
8. ‘Can you tell us about an event you’ve planned/been involved in?’
Now is the time to really showcase your hands-on experience in the catering business. The interviewer will ask this question to determine how creative and practical you are and where you put your focus in busy situations. They want to be confident in your organisational skills and ability to produce specific meals and presentations.
Talk about a previous event you were involved in and explain how you executed ideas according to customer needs. You need to display a sense of realistic planning and practicality when getting down to business. Did you effectively manage your staff? Did you propose and create suitable menus? How did you manage your time? Detail the event and let the interviewer know you’ve got what it takes to handle any kind of catering opportunity.
9. ‘Why do you want to work for us?’
This is where you establish your passion and motivation for not only the role but the company, too. Do your research beforehand and talk about what you like about this particular catering service. You want to be complimentary, but don’t overdo it – you don’t want to sound too keen. Emphasise your skills and how they can tie into the company’s culture.
You want to avoid mentioning anything to do with money, as this is a major turn-off during an interview. Yes, salary may truly be the reason you want to work for this company, but never, ever disclose this. Give company vision and values, admiration of services or general company reputation as an answer instead.
10. ‘Why should we hire you?’
Here’s yet another of the most common questions bound to arise during your catering interview. As most interviews end with this question, make this your final moment to shine. Sell yourself by informing the panel what makes you stand out from the crowd. Is it your custom gourmet selection? Perhaps you’re exceptional at presenting a food spread?
Highlight your skills and abilities and always – always – align them to the benefit of the company and role. Present yourself as the applicant who can solve the company’s problem, and how you’ll be a great addition to the team.
With great preparation, knowledge of your skills and experience, as well as a keen, energetic and passionate attitude (not too much), you’ll be able to sail through your catering job interview like a piece of cake.
Have you sat through a catering interview before? Tell us the kind of questions you faced – and how you answered them – in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 9 December 2014.