What's it really like?
Victoria Foster is 21 years old and has been a catering assistant at many restaurants since the age of 16. She tells us what the job is really like.
My job on a regular day would include setting up before opening and helping in the kitchen with the preparation and storage of food. I would also load and unload the dishwasher, carry out meals, clear tables, stack trays, and help out with general cleaning.
On a daily basis, I use my interpersonal skills to provide customer care, following health and safety procedures and demonstrating the use of food hygiene at all times. As well as all this, I sometimes help at the front with making drinks, serving customers and using the till. I also help to prepare the carvery on Sundays, and assist with vegetable preparation.
Some of the perks of working in this particular job include being able to sample a variety of foods available throughout the day, work within a friendly and sociable team of staff members and be invited to regular social get-togethers. I am given plenty of overtime opportunities and am able to attend staff discos.
This job enables you to be flexible and gain new skills all the time whilst working.
Some of my dislikes about the job include working long hours which can prove to be tiring and sometimes you may not get a long enough break for lunch. Working at the weekend means it is always hectic, especially on Sundays when it’s the carvery and you may be required to deal with customer complaints. It is a very demanding job done under pressure and some of the jobs you undertake can be tedious at times.
My advice is that you must be prepared to work hard, have good interpersonal skills regarding customer care, and you must be fairly flexible. You need to be willing to undertake a variety of ever-changing aspects of the job, for example, working in the kitchen or at the front serving. You are expected to demonstrate good food hygiene, and health and safety procedures at all times and follow instructions given to you by the manager or supervisor. It would therefore be advisable to have gained an up to date food hygiene certificate and a health and safety certificate or be willing to get one.
With regards to further career progression, you could become a cooking assistant, or take a supervisory role.
My current hourly wage is £5.60.
A catering assistant cleans kitchens, taking care of all aspects of hygiene as well as helping to prepare food and serve it to customers.
The role of a catering assistant is to help out in the kitchen and to be responsible for hygiene and cleanliness within food preparation areas. Catering assistants are also responsible for carrying out basic food preparation tasks, such as washing and peeling food. They are also likely to organise the store room, as well as being responsible for unloading deliveries from suppliers. They will also collect and dispose of waste. It is not unusual for a catering assistant to clean and cut up meat, fish and vegetables, as well as operate machinery.
It is important that catering assistants are good communicators, not only to succeed in their contact with customers but also their co-workers. They must also be able to operate as part of a team, as they are likely to have to work alongside chefs, waitresses, and restaurant managers.
Hours can vary, and shifts may be part time or full time. Working at weekends, in the evenings and on public holidays is the norm.
The work environment is likely to be noisy and can be stressful at busy times, such as lunch and dinner.
The role is suitable for both sexes (neither gender dominates the role) and for all ages, although due to health and safety laws regarding the use of specific equipment, such as knives, employees under the age of 18 may find that their role is restricted.
At a starting level, salaries of around £9,250 a year can be expected for employees aged 18 or over. Mid-level catering assistants can expect to receive a salary of around £10,500 to £12,500 a year. However, with experience, this can rise to a maximum of £15,000. Although this may seem low, employees may have the opportunity to work overtime, meaning there is the potential for greater earnings.
- Cleaning the kitchen, including washing kitchen appliances, work surfaces, floors and walls.
- Carrying out basic food hygiene preparation tasks.
- Ensuring chefs are equipped with the food and tools they need.
- Helping the chef get ready for service by preparing food. Catering assistants may be expected to peel, trim or wash food so it is ready to be cooked.
- Loading and unloading the dishwasher
- Helping to serve meals to customers
Most employers will not ask for formal qualifications although a food hygiene certificate and some secondary qualifications such as GCSEs will improve your chances of finding employment.
Potential employees can also improve their chances of getting a job as a catering assistant, by taking a Young Apprenticeship in Hospitality.
To become a successful catering assistant, applicants will need to demonstrate the following skills:
- Ability to work efficiently and keep calm, under pressure
- Stamina and enthusiasm
- Ability to work quickly but efficiently
- Ability to work well in a team
- Good communication skills
- High standards of personal hygiene
- An interest in food and catering
- Ability to work long hours in a stressful environment
The hours of work can be long and the work physically demanding, so employees may find the job tiring. However, no matter how tired an employee is feeling, it is crucial that they are alert at all times because of the potentially dangerous equipment in the kitchen.
The kitchen environment is likely to be very hot, noisy and busy, which can all be stressful. Catering assistants are also on their feet for most of the shift, so comfortable shoes need to be worn and the job is not suitable for anyone with back problems. Stamina and physical strength are also important for the job, as employees are expected to lift and carry heavy items regularly.
It is likely that the employee will be provided with a uniform, and as part of this most employers request that their staff wear an apron or overalls. Waterproof boots and gloves may also need to be worn and other special protective clothing may be supplied when handling chemicals used for cleaning, for example.
The physical conditions of the job can be dangerous, as employees are likely to be working in a kitchen that contains potentially hazardous equipment, such as sharp knives and other implements for cutting. Catering assistants are likely to have to use these as well as automatic mixers and chipping machines. However, the law states that individuals under 18 are not allowed to use certain dangerous pieces of equipment, such as meat slicers.
The average working week for a full time catering assistant is 40 hours, although around two-thirds of all kitchen jobs are part time and casual and seasonal jobs are also available. They may be expected to start work very early or work at night, although shifts are also usually split between employees.
On a positive note, the working environment can be enjoyable, and staff discounts or free meals may be available.
Previous experience of working in a kitchen is an advantage for potential employees. However, supervised training is normally provided on the job, including instruction on how to prepare meals and handle equipment.
Major employers in this field include hotels, pubs, restaurants, hospitals, schools and the armed forces.
Currently, there are around 400,000 catering assistants in the UK. Vacancies are constantly available and can be found online or through local job centres.
Major hotel chains employing catering assistants include the Hilton and The Holiday Inn. Popular national restaurants and pubs employing catering assistants include Frankie and Benny's, Wetherspoons and Pizza Hut.
It is possible to work towards qualifications in hospitality, and food processing and preparation, whilst working as a catering assistant.
Courses are available which lead to a food hygiene certificate if you do not already have one. Train4food offers training courses in both food hygiene and food safety training. Another good website for prospective catering assistants is Global-Idconsulting, who specialise in food hygiene training as well as qualifications for other areas of the food industry.
Job progression or promotion in this field of work includes managerial positions, kitchen supervisor, or trainee chef. However, if you still wish to have contact with customers but perhaps in a different environment, bar work or waiting may be for you.