Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Prospects on a platter
Feed your ambition by taking up a career in catering, writes Usha Albuquerque

ARE you interested in food and regularly try out new recipes? Have you always dreamt of having your own restaurant? With the number of new eateries coming up practically every week, catering as a career has truly arrived. From pubs to fast-food joints, and from a variety of Turkish, Lebanese and Korean food restaurants to specialised catering for weddings and fancy events, food has hit the national consciousness like never before.

Catering as a profession, is a specialist area dealing with the nitty-gritty of cooking and supplying good food in an organised fashion. Catering for fluctuating numbers of customers with minimum wastage is a highly skilled job, as is arranging for rosters to cope with busy periods without being over-staffed in slack ones.

Catering professionals can opt for work either in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, fast-food joints and any other catering establishments. They can even set up their own restaurants or catering outlets.

What’s cooking?

The main areas of work for catering professionals include: restaurant management (including the management and running of fast-food joints), management of pubs, industrial catering, school and hostel catering services, catering for weddings and parties, hospital catering and transport catering.

In most cases, catering professionals have to work in a team with chefs, delivery boys, and restaurant attendants. They are expected to have a thorough knowledge of food and the art of cooking. In addition, they should have the right infrastructure for coordinating with customers and their own staff. They have to be in touch with their customers. The interests of customers have to be given top priority.

Restaurant/food service managers:The responsibilities of restaurant and food service managers are tremendous. They are in chaing utensils, to planning menus, spending time on ‘customer contact’ and helping the restaurant reach the profit target.

Professional cooks:Chefs are the most important members of the catering team. They prepare the food and ensure its quality and taste, thus bringing in the customers. Chefs need to be knowledgeable about different kinds of foods and cuisines and how they can be prepared. Chefs can work in restaurants, fast-food joints, hotels and pubs. Moreover, they can also be employed by organisations catering for banquets, marriages and birthday parties, offices and industries, school and college canteens, hospitals, as well as airlines, trains and ships.

Freelancers:Most caterers generally freelance for individuals or large companies on a contractual basis. They generally arrange for complete banquets, including preparing the food, setting up the hall, along with the tables, seating arrangements and overall layout for the parties. Certain caterers also specialise in supplying packed lunches to offices and schools, preparing meals for hospitals, and also in packaging meals for the airlines and railways.

Course clues

A diploma / degree in catering technology is the minimum requirement for entry into the catering profession. All institutions offering courses in hotel management offer specialised courses in catering also. Certain private institutes also conduct 3-year diploma courses in culinary arts, which covers catering and food service. There are also short- duration courses of 6 months to one year conducted by the government-run Food Craft Institutes in most of the state capitals. Here courses include Food & Beverage service, Cookery Craft, Bakery and Confectionary and are geared towards direct entry into the indutry. There are several polytechnics and private vocational institutions that teach cooking and baking.


The basic eligibility for the 3-year diploma course in Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition is plus two.

For admission to a Food Craft Institute, the minimum eligibility requirement is, to have passed the Class X examination.

Selection to all courses is on the basis of merit in a qualifying exam. A group discussion and personal interview mostly follow the entrance test.

Recipe for success

But in addition to professional qualifications, those getting into this field must have certain personal qualities. This is a service-oriented industry requiring a willingness to serve. An outgoing personality; organising and administrative ability; communication skills; ability to motivate staff; interest in people and their creature comforts; some practical skills; good health and stamina; ability to work under pressure; common sense; tact and a sense of humour can go a long way in this field. Self-discipline, initiative and leadership ability are also essential attributes of hotel industry personnel.

But you must also keep in mind that the profession calls for physical hard work, long and odd hours. Working hours for most hotel professionals start when others are enjoying their leisure time. It is also necessary to keep one’s cool under trying circumstances, and to remember that the guest is always right.

Taste new opportunities

But students graduating from hotel management or catering courses are in great demand not only in the hotel and catering industry, but also in airlines, railways, shipping corporations, hospitals, schools, hostels, industrial canteens and the defence sector.

This is a fast-moving career, where upward mobility is purely merit based.

With the present gap between the hotel industry’s annual personnel requirement and the number of graduates turned out by existing institutions a job at the end of training is almost a guarantee. Some institutions run placement schemes for the benefit of their students. Those joining apprenticeship/training schemes are usually absorbed by the hotel or chain imparting training and are often under contract to serve the organisation for a stipulated period after training is completed.

And, of course, starting out on one’s own venture is also a great option. If you have a knack for cooking, baking or chocolate making, you can start by catering from the comfort of your home. In fact, many housewives have set up their own small-scale catering businesses, providing local firms with home cooked mid-day snacks. Moreover, fast-food joints are now being given out on franchise basis and restaurants offering different cuisines are in great demand. So, if you have the confidence to go it alone, this is probably the best time to flavour your career with the right ingredients.

The writer is a noted career expert