What does a catering assistant do? (With skills and duties)
Updated 19 September 2023
The service industry typically employs professionals to prepare and serve food to customers and maintain kitchens and seating areas. The role of a catering assistant usually includes many aspects of food and customer service. If you're applying for catering assistant jobs, it can be useful to know in advance what tasks an employer may expect you to perform. In this article, we answer the question 'What does a catering assistant do?' and provide a definitive guide on the primary responsibilities and the skills you may require.
What does a catering assistant do?
When trying to answer the question 'What does a catering assistant do?', it's useful to consider the role's typical responsibilities, including all aspects of safe and clean food preparation and service to customers. A catering assistant, or kitchen assistant or kitchen porter, supports other catering staff by handling practical tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and serving. It's important to prepare the food and serve it in strict accordance with food safety regulations. Catering assistants may also help with administrative tasks like tracking orders, filling out paperwork, organising storerooms and unloading deliveries.
What are the main responsibilities of a catering assistant?
Supervisors can call upon catering assistants to perform various tasks involving food service since they may specialise in different areas or frequently rotate between shifts. They're an essential part of a catering workforce and fulfil many roles depending on the needs of the establishment. Here are some examples of their key responsibilities:
Catering assistants usually prepare raw ingredients for cooking by peeling, chopping, trimming, marinating, seasoning and storing food for cooks to use. This work may be minimal in fast-food restaurants since some ingredients arrive at the kitchen pre-packaged, sliced and seasoned. A catering assistant in a restaurant, pop-up or hotel may prepare food ingredients to support their chef or sous-chef.
Your responsibilities often depend on the type of kitchen. Cooking meals or specific ingredients is a common task for catering assistants as part of a kitchen team. Sometimes they work at a certain station throughout the day, such as a grill, fryer, pizza oven or drinks machine to prepare the same food product continuously. This works especially well in a large, dynamic restaurant kitchen with an extensive menu or fast-food establishment serving similar menu items. Smaller kitchens may expect their catering assistants to manage multiple stations or prepare orders as they arrive.
Some services may employ separate servers and catering assistants, while some use the term to describe both roles. Serving involves tasks such as taking orders from customers and delivering meals to tables, at counters for collection or setting up buffets. This role requires care when dealing with specific customer requests for adjustments or information to address dietary requirements and health issues. It can also involve helping with accessibility issues such as accommodating wheelchairs and providing highchairs for children.
Most catering assistants handle orders in some capacity, such as in the kitchen to determine what food to prepare or at a till taking orders and delivering the meals to customers. Most food services use electronic order management systems and screens to help the kitchen staff prepare food. Some types of van, hotel kitchen or sit-down restaurant catering jobs may not use an electronic system. Instead, the catering assistants may take orders manually. In this case, having legible handwriting helps to ensure accurate interpretation.
Unloading deliveries of stock, ingredients and equipment to supply the kitchen and the front of house is a common task for catering assistants. It's important to safely and carefully unload heavy items, such as crates and pallets, by lifting from the knees and using equipment responsibly since it can easily cause injuries. An employer may expect you to inspect items for transit damage and ensure that everything's fresh and safe to use in the kitchen in compliance with food safety standards.
Disposing of waste
Food services create substantial waste from food preparation, finished meals and waste products, such as oil and coal from cooking equipment. This role typically requires you to dispose of waste responsibly. You may also help with the bulk disposal of these waste products at the end of service or assist with the weekly collection of commercial food waste.
The most common task of catering assistants or other dedicated roles, such as dishwashers, is to keep the kitchen and equipment clean. Many trainees or new hires may start with washing dishes, work surfaces, cookers, walls and appliances to help ensure continued kitchen operations and food service. You may require special commercial-grade cleaning equipment to accomplish this. Additionally, stacking the items properly allows them to drain and dry, ready for service. Since your tasks may also involve cleaning hot grills and fryers properly at the end of service, it's important to take appropriate safety precautions.
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What career progression opportunities can catering assistants expect?
Most catering assistants receive brief training and start at a simple station to help ensure they can perform basic tasks in a busy kitchen. With the appropriate knowledge and experience, they can progress to a more senior position, such as a supervisor, manager or chef, which usually comes with a pay rise. More extensive experience can enable you to work in other industries and different types of food service establishments, including restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools and the armed forces.
What skills are useful for catering assistants?
Working in the food service industry can be challenging, requiring a broad range of skills. Here are some examples of the key skills that catering assistants use daily:
Teamwork: Catering assistants typically form part of a large, diverse team of professionals who are most effective when working together. Effective teamwork typically increases service delivery and cooperation.
Attention to detail: Attention to detail helps with identifying errors, avoiding undesirable situations and conveying customer orders accurately. This skill is also useful for determining the optimal time during food preparation and cooking.
Excellent memory: Catering jobs consistently replicate a routine, menu or process multiple times a day. As a result, successful catering assistants have a good memory to efficiently and accurately complete your tasks.
Maintain composure during challenges: Kitchens and the front of house can become busy during peak times, which can lead to challenging demands from customers. Since it can be difficult to keep up with many different orders, staying calm in these situations can help things run smoothly and ensure customer satisfaction.
Cleanliness: Since food services typically adhere to strict safety standards and hygiene protocols, they maintain a high standard of personal hygiene. Preparing food and operating machinery safely is also important to avoid accidents, contamination and injuries in the workplace.
Communication: A kitchen is a fast-moving environment filled with noise from conversations, instructions, cooking and machinery. Communicating effectively, concisely and loudly keeps the kitchen running efficiently and ensure that everyone's aware of challenges, changes or priorities.
Endurance: Catering work involves long hours of standing at stations and moving between kitchens and tables, which can be physically taxing. Comfortable shoes can help alleviate some of the strain of a long shift and safeguard your long-term health.
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