Risk Description

Catering businesses provide a wide variety of food services and may be classified as social, industrial, institutional, concession, airline or mobile catering. The segment is expected to grow 10% between 2010 and 2020. Some catering businesses may prepare, transport and serve food to customers or groups, while others manage food service operations in hotels, casinos and other enterprises. Small firms are generally owned by one or two people and are often family businesses. Large catering companies may be national in scope, providing food service to schools, cafeterias, sports venues and hospitals, usually on annual contracts. Franchises account for only 2% of sales.

Social catering accounts for a major portion of industry activity, both on-premises in owned or rented facilities, and off-premises at a location chosen by the customer. Usually hired for a single social or business-related event (wedding, party, meeting, etc.), services may range from box lunches to elaborate event management including sit-down dinners for hundreds or thousands of attendees.

Industrial/institutional catering involves in-house food service management for businesses, professional organizations, institutions, schools, hospitals and similar groups. It includes menu planning, purchasing, food preparation and service, and cleanup. In some instances, such as in major health care institutions, food service is a specialized, 24/7 operation involving sophisticated logistics and automated processes.

Concessions are generally operated at sports venues, amusement parks, theatres, transportation terminals and turnpike rest stops. Generally, space is leased. Concessionaires may offer a variety of food service options including walking vendors, snack bars, carts and kiosks, vending machines, cocktail lounges and sit-down dining.

Mobile catering encompasses a wide range, from specialized airline catering to old-fashioned job site catering trucks, to “Meals on Wheels” charitable catering, to large, sophisticated mobile catering kitchens used on movie location shoots. Airline catering is managed by a select group of companies with highly specialized refrigeration, transport and delivery equipment required by flight operations at both commercial and general aviation airports. Airline and TSA security clearances are required, including five year background checks on drivers entering restricted airport ramps. FAA regulations are also in force. International flights may require a customs bond by the caterer.

Catering business facilities will vary with the size of the enterprise, from a small commercial kitchen with storage, to elaborate banquet facilities with several large dining rooms, kitchen, offices, stockrooms, walk-in refrigerators/freezers, restrooms, parking lots and outdoor pavilions.

Off-premises caterers will typically employ three to seven full time employees including chef, salesperson, events coordinator and administrative assistants. Part-time staff will vary by assignment, but generally will involve bartenders, waiters/waitresses and bussers. Caterers who maintain their own premises, such as “party centers,” may employ larger staff either full or part-time, including food service workers, parking attendants, maintenance staff, photographers, entertainers, etc.

Workdays are atypical and can be very long, especially during holidays. Multiple-event days are common. Work can be physically demanding, including transport and set up of tents, tables, chairs and equipment; carrying large loaded trays; standing and serving for long periods of time and under inclement conditions. Airline catering is 24/7.