Survival Jobs for Performing Artists: Catering

Survival Jobs for Performing Artists: Catering

Interview by Lauryn M.

While restaurant work may not be ideal for everyone pursuing a career in the arts, catering is another opportunity that allows for more flexibility, experience, and personally, a little more fun. If you happen to consider moving to the city and want a job to help pay the bills right away, check out some of the catering companies below. You hardly need any experience, just a great work ethic, availability, and a genuine smile. Responding to event offers with a simple “yes” or “no” is so much easier than trying to find someone to cover your shift! You can become a full-time caterer, but I would recommend using it for opportunity and extra money, while you have performance gigs or another part time job on the side. You never know where or who you’ll be serving throughout the city.

Read on to see why contemporary artist, John Bonafede, believes catering can provide opportunity and growth while also working as an artist in the city.

Interview with John Bonafede

  1. How many years have you lived in NYC?

I've lived in NYC for 23 years (wow, I came here at 19 years old!)

  1. How did you become interested in working in the food industry in the city?

I was never very interested in working in the food industry honestly. I needed $ to support myself and waiting tables at Lincoln Center was my first part time food gig. It helped me pay my bills so I always fell back on it between other creative jobs.

  1. How long have you been working in the food industry?

I've been working in the food industry for 23 years, off and on. For a few years, I had a corporate job but went back after that ended (financial crisis of 2008.)

  1. How did you hear about your food industry job opportunities?

I first got into the food industry through my friend who was a manager at a very upscale restaurant. She was an old friend. I actually get most of my opportunities through people recommending me, at least to get my foot in the door.

  1. What different types of positions have you had?

I've been a waiter, a caterer, a bartender and a Captain of a catering company.

  1. Do you believe working in the food industry is a reliable, flexible, enjoyable source of income, while pursuing a career in the arts?

It is sometimes more enjoyable than other times. It really depends on the pay, clients, and the people who are working that day. Obviously, the more money you walk with and the cooler the coworkers, the better. It is a service industry at the end of the day so you must have a thick skin and not lose your cool when people act stupid- which always happens.

  1. Would you recommend working in a restaurant or a bar to new artists in the city?

I would not necessarily recommend it to everyone but I would say, be open to it. Different personalities could handle it more than others. Not relying on the Art World to pay my bills has taught me the Art of Refusal when it comes to my real work. I never like to compromise for money when it comes to the real work because I know I will still be able to scrape by without financial compensation from the art. The food industry (as well as freelancing in the film and video industry) has given me that option. Restaurants and bars are often rumor mills and can be dens of iniquity. If you abstain from certain unhealthy behavior you could make enemies of coworkers for just being healthy. For example, if you are a vegetarian, or are fasting, or want to stop drinking, want to go home early because you exercise in the morning, etc. then others could perceive it as a judgement toward them, especially in the food industry.

  1. Have any other comments or concerns you would like to share?

Being in the food industry can lead people to indulge too much. I have seen it happen often. This perception of always being "on,” is unrealistic when some shifts last more than 12 hours.

I have become very sophisticated in my pallet for food and alcohol. However, I know there is a lot of partying and drugs that are part of the evening/ night shifts in any industry. Eating at home, exercising and just being healthy is a challenge when free food, alcohol and such is offered to you regularly, especially when the rents in NYC are so overpriced and money is tight. In the long run, it's better to consume minimal quantities of anything from the food industry. That said, I have met wonderful people, experienced incredible places, and had art career enriching experiences directly related to being in the food industry. As a fine artist, the flexibility in the shifts has allowed me to actively pursue my dream in NYC so I can't really complain. It's a balancing act and one must know how to strike a balance that is comfortable for themselves without getting burnt, jaded or worse.

Obviously, I have a deeper appreciation of those who are in the industry when I go out to eat or are at a catered event. I still take leftover food, destined for the garbage, to people who are hungry. Unfortunately, NYC is full of them, and not only struggling artists! That makes me feel good because otherwise, I often find it hard to donate much to charity, given my budget.

John Bonafede is a contemporary artist living and working in New York City. His work encompasses painting, performance, graphic novels, and performance happenings.
Instagram: @johnbonafede
Facebook: John Downing Bonafede

Catering Companies in NYC

Pinch Food Design
Runway Waiters
Great Performances
Julia Valler
Top Shelf Staffing
Other Options:


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