Sometimes the evening goes smoothly, but sometimes there are not enough glasses. Or, the tablecloths are too short. The chef is complaining. The client wants ketchup and no one brought it. When you’re a student who works part-time for a catering company, you always have to be on your toes. Nothing is perfect, but everything can be fixed.
“Everything is yes, yes, yes. If you’re a client, you get what you want,” said senior Adam Linet, who has been working as a waiter for catering companies since his freshman year.
Go to any restaurant in the area and many of the people waiting on you will be college students making extra money, but there are also students whose work resembles this trade.
Students who work for catering companies don’t have regular hours. And in Washington, which is known as one of the highest paying cities for caterers, they can get an hourly wage of $18 to $25. Furthermore, unlike restaurant waiters, catering waiters are not the main event – they are in the background, and do not have to work for tips.
Linet is working two catering jobs this month and already has five scheduled for February. He has worked for a variety of catering companies during his time at GW, including 3Citron, Dish, Mindy’s and Shindig. He also contracts himself out as an independent caterer.
To be a student who is also a caterer, you have to be personable, smile a lot, and know how to balance working on a moment’s notice or scheduling events for three months from now, Linet said.
On Saturday night, Linet was a bartender for a 1920s flapper-themed event thrown by 3Citron at the National Building Museum. Before the event started, chefs were preparing trays in the back and Linet was slicing limes and lemons. Behind the scenes things were at full speed, but the guests would never know it. Five out of the 25-person wait staff were GW students.
“Students do well as waiters for catered events like this because they have a willingness to learn and it’s very flexible,” said Lyn Holland, the personnel manager of 3Citron. “They can work when they want to and they can learn about small businesses, event planning, food, wine, logistics.”
Sarah Magallanes, a senior who works for Restaurant Associates, the catering company for the Kennedy Center, said some of the perks for students are the good pay, free and delicious food made by top chefs, the chance to work with friends and meet other people, and of course, the celebrities.
“Catering is better pay in terms of base wages and you don’t have to deal with difficult customers most of the time,” Magallanes added.
Sometimes those “customers” are famous faces around town. Junior Harty Durfor, who has been working for Restaurant Associates since his sophomore year, said he once served former Secretary of State Colin Powell a gin and tonic, and saw actor Robert Redford and director Steven Spielberg at an event. Rubbing shoulders can happen, but only if guests initiate it, he said.
Despite the perks, there are downsides like any job. There is no regular staff, so caterers end up working with different people at every event, and they have to dress up “in a monkey suit,” Linet said, referring to his tuxedo.
Durfor said that at the Kennedy Center someone comes in to fit a caterer for a tuxedo, which costs $170 out-of-pocket, but the money can be made back pretty quickly.
“(It’s) a lot easier to be a caterer than a waiter because you don’t think,” Durfor said. At the Kennedy Center, there are usually five captains, who manage about 10 caterers each. Also, you are not interacting with the guest like a waiter would. “There is no ‘Hey how you doing.’ You are mostly silent and in the background.”
It also helps when you have experience – both Linet and Durfor worked in restaurants before they started catering jobs. Linet worked as a waiter in New York and Durfor grew up in New Hampshire at an inn where he started waiting tables when he was 11 years old.
“Experience just helps you because you know what to expect,” Durfor said. “One day you can be a bartender, a butler, or on the kitchen staff, there’s a range of jobs and it just depends on the experience you have.”
Both Linet and Durfor said it was easy to crack into the catering business. Linet got his first catering job off GWork and Durfor started at the Kennedy Center because his friend told him about the job. There are over 100 GW student-caterers who are part of the Facebook group, “The Penguin Posse-Kennedy Center Butlers.”
“No matter what you want to do in the future, you have to get out there and get this type of experience in college,” Durfor said. “Doing this will help you appreciate things later on.”