From the delicious dishes at your best friend's wedding to the cookie-cutter crudites at your annual corporate meeting, each nibble you nosh at a group gathering is likely the brainchild of a banquet chef. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this position in the category of “chefs and head cooks,” who commanded a median salary of $40,630 nationwide in May 2010. A seasoned pro in a prime venue has the best recipe for earning the most dough in this job, where the top 10 percent of chefs earned more than $70,960, according to the BLS.
Just as a restaurant's general manager and head chef orchestrate a nightly dinner service, a banquet manager and banquet chef pair up for the planning, preparation and execution of banquets. A head banquet chef is charged with crafting a menu of offerings according to season and supply. Then, while navigating bridezillas and penny-pinching planners, mixes up the perfect picks for each event based on preferences, dietary restrictions, religious or cultural customs, and cost. During the event, the head banquet chef works like a conductor keeping order among an ensemble chefs, cooks and dishwashers to create a symphony of precision-timed servings that are flawlessly presented.
People skills are paramount in this job, from negotiating with clients to communicating with a diverse team. You don't need to be a numbers whiz, but some mathematics aptitude is a must for budgeting and forecasting your purchase needs, planning menus without waste or shortage, and aligning enough staff to appropriately serve a group. Effective multitasking and time management are a must for getting each course served in a timely fashion, especially when juggling several events at once. A solid understanding of heating and refrigeration requirements will help you master mass production without compromising on taste and texture when catering to a large group, and ensure you don't send your guests home with an unwelcome party favor like a stomach bug!
A banquet chef ranks pretty high on the totem pole, so you'll need to bring your A game to land this plum role on the kitchen crew. High-volume cooking at a restaurant, kitchen management and catering are common avenues that lead to a career path as a head banquet chef. Although formal education is not a fixed requirement for this job, a certificate from a culinary arts program or a degree in hospitality management are some higher education accolades that can give you an edge among other candidates competing for the position.
Professional groups can enhance the head banquet chef’s skill set while offering networking, support and a chance to blow of steam at events. Organizations like the Service Employees International Union and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union help to ensure fair treatment in the workplace and employ representatives who step in to mitigate when disagreements between management and kitchen crew are too hot to handle. Trade shows and functions with the American Hotel and Lodging Association, International Caterers Association and the National Association of Catering Executives corral colleagues for a preview of new advancements and products in the food service industry.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Chefs and Head Cooks
- So You Want to Be a Chef; Lisa M. Brefere et al.
- Culinary Careers for Dummies; Michele Thomas et al.
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