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 20 questions with an in-depth explanation of how to answer each one.
Interviews typically start with these questions to ease you into the conversation and provide those interviewing you with some background information.
1. “Tell us about yourself”
This commonly asked question is 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.
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 working in catering, engage your interviewer by talking about your passion for food, hospitality and service.
3. “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. Emphasize 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.
4. “How can we reduce the likelihood of accidents at catering events?”
People working in the catering and hospitality industries are no strangers to slips and trips. When you’re running up and down carrying trays that obstruct your vision, you’re more likely to stumble and lose your balance.
Thankfully, most of these hazards can be eliminated. All it takes is vigilance and taking initiative. Food and drink spillages, water leaks, and obstacles such as cables should be removed as soon as they’re observed.
Aside from that, injury can occur when disposing of hot liquids, using appliances, or attempting to lift heavy things. Following operating instructions for machinery, wearing personal protective equipment, and knowing your limits are excellent ways of minimizing the likelihood of accidents and you should include these examples in your answer.
5. “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.
Here are a few questions that are based around your skillset, including the best ways to answer them.
6. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
A difficult interview question like this might throw you off balance, but if you’re well-prepared, you can get through it like a breeze. This is another way of evaluating your self-awareness.
When summarizing 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.”
7. “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 organizational skills and your ability to prioritize and stay calm in chaotic situations.
Perhaps you once dealt with a chef who messed up the menu? Or maybe your staff spilled drinks all over the guests at a wedding? Whatever the case, make sure you explain how you stayed focused and organized and how you maintained a calm demeanor when addressing the problem and dealing with unhappy customers.
That brings us to the next catering interview question…
8. “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.
9. “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.
10. “How would you describe your communication skills?”
Communication is a huge component of effective customer service. Show your hiring manager that you know this and emphasize your politeness, patience, and empathy.
Successful communication, however, isn’t just about knowing what to say and how to say it; sometimes it has to do with what’s not being said.
Bringing up non-verbal cues and how you look out for them to optimize your customers’ experience is a good idea. Add that you’re an active listener, too, and you’ll show your prospective employer that you’re a good fit for this role.
11. “What makes a good team player?”
The success of catering events relies on good collaboration between team members. Things go much more smoothly when people speak clearly, listen actively, and offer a hand where they can. After all, as the saying goes, “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’”.
So, what are some keywords you should use in your answer? Communication, respect, dependability, and adaptability are all qualities that excellent team players demonstrate. By being flexible and committed to the team, employees can solve problems faster and carry the weight more equally.
12. “Name the top skills/qualities required to thrive in this profession.”
Working in catering requires a combination of physical stamina and excellent customer service skills. While physical stamina is self-explanatory, ‘excellent customer service’ implies a whole other set of qualities and abilities.
Of these abilities, great interpersonal skills are perhaps the first you should mention. That goes beyond politeness, patience, and, at times, persuasiveness; it also necessitates a degree of cultural awareness.
Besides these attributes, excellent attention to detail, organizational skills, and collaboration skills are also vital.
In your interview, you’ll probably be asked some competency-based questions so the interviewer can judge your experience and how competent you’d be in the role.
13. “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.
14. “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 organizational 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.
15. “Describe a time when you had to deal with an unexpected turn of events at work.”
Nobody likes last-minute changes at work. They can be stressful, disorienting, and frustrating. However, most of us will experience them from time to time.
To answer this question, think back to an event that ended up being overly challenging. Perhaps the weather turned bad unexpectedly or the food started to run out faster than you had anticipated. Describe how your team handled the situation, emphasizing what your role was in finding a solution. If your answer demonstrates your problem-solving skills and ability to work well under pressure, it will be appreciated.
16. “How do you react when something goes wrong?”
It’s generally a good idea to be honest in your job interviews. Having said that, we don’t encourage you to respond with: “I retreat to the bathroom and cry tears of frustration”. Right now, your hiring manager wants to see that you know how to handle mishaps.
As you know, maintaining your composure and a level tone of voice is important in customer service. So is thinking on your feet and acting quickly, whether to take over a situation or alert your supervisor.
You may also want to acknowledge that finding a resolution quickly requires staff to be present at all times. If someone’s absent-minded, their reaction time won’t be great. Close off your answer by saying that you keep an eye out at all times to ensure everyone’s well-being.
17. “What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a successful event?”
Your interviewer may ask this question to assess your observational skills and judgment. The success of an event is, of course, tied to the satisfaction of the guests. Smiling, engaged customers are always a telltale sign that you’re doing something right.
Likewise, a shared, positive attitude between team members can also indicate that an event is running like clockwork. Good communication and a sense of unity among employees can increase productivity and efficiency, boosting the customers’ satisfaction all the more.
To wrap it off, you could say that a successful event isn’t necessarily one where everything goes according to plan. Rather, it’s one where teams exceed expectations by being responsive and adaptive.
Now we move on to some scenario-based questions. Interviewers ask these to give you an opportunity to show how you would handle certain hypothetical situations.
18. “Describe a time when you experienced a staffing shortage at an event.”
This question could be reworded as follows: “In times of stress, can you take initiative and are you willing to perform duties additional to your own?”
Though frequently going above and beyond at work can become exhausting, we may all be called to carry extra weight from time to time. Whether due to sickness or miscommunication, your colleagues may need you to fill in for them. You can acknowledge this in your answer and describe a time where you had to quickly adapt to new circumstances. Maybe you took it upon you to identify and perform tasks that fell within your abilities or knowledge. Or, perhaps you made suggestions as to who should do what, based on your teammates’ strengths.
19. “How do you go about saying ‘no’ to a customer?”
As catering and special events guru Andrew Cavitolo recounts in an article, crazy requests and catering go hand in hand. From spending thousands of dollars on tea to creating a floating skate park on the Hudson, he’s been asked to do it all.
Though you may not have to deal with such extravagant requests, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Let your hiring manager know that you will generally do your best to fulfill your customers’ wishes, so long as they’re within reason. If a request can’t be accommodated, you will suggest alternatives that best cover their needs — given the request doesn’t compromise health and safety standards.
20. “What are your most and least favorite things about this job?”
Your hiring manager is trying to gauge your attitude towards this type of work. If you can’t demonstrate even a bit of excitement, it’s likely that they won’t move forward with your application. So, think to yourself, “why am I interested in this position?”
Maybe it’s the decorating you’re fond of. Or maybe it’s the organizing or the interacting with people. Communicate whatever it is that you find interesting — this will tell them a bit about your personality, too.
At the same time, perhaps you’re not as fond of night shifts or working under pressure. While it’s good to be honest, it’s important to phrase this carefully. When discussing things you’re less than thrilled about, mention some ways you’re working on dealing with the negatives.
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.
Originally published December 9, 2014. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.