Food and Film

When it comes to film productions, anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand people come together to make movie magic. Movie crews often work long hours in remote or secured locations, making traditional lunch breaks where employees can bring their own food or run out for take-out impractical. Because of this, a whole catering industry has grown up around Hollywood and other popular filming locations, with caterers vying for highly coveted spots on film and television sets.

Catering vs. Crafty

On a film set there are two very distinct foodservice options available: catering and craft services, which is often called “crafty” by the cast and crew. They are sometimes handled by the same company, but are most often completely separate. Catering handles meals, most often lunch and dinner, but also breakfast at some early shoots. These meals are carefully scheduled to fit in around the shooting schedule and generally feature nutritious foods that help keep the crew running for long days of often very physical labor.

Crafty, on the other hand, is like a snack buffet, though on some high-budget shoots, it can get pretty elaborate. On most sets, it’s a lot of prepackaged snacks, fruit, and candy, with sandwiches sometimes available around mealtimes. Crafty is meant to fill the gaps between meals and offer a quick bite to those who may be too busy to take a full meal break. It also serves as the “water cooler” on set, where the cast and crew mingle and get to know each other – an invaluable resource in the film industry where so much runs on word of mouth and whom you know.

Film Catering Challenges

Catering is a difficult job under normal circumstances, when the food has to be brought to a venue or, sometimes, just a random field, to feed a crowd of potentially hundreds. The food has to be cooked, transported, and kept at safe, palatable temperatures or reheated on-site. This presents a number of logistical issues that caterers overcome with a combination of ingenuity and the right equipment. However, companies that cater on movie and television sets face some unique challenges.

Instead of a one-time event featuring one meal, caterers who work on film sets have to provide hundreds or thousands of people with two to three meals per day for months at a time. While this is sometimes done at a studio in the middle of a city, food often has to be served in isolated locations. Additionally, because of the ever-changing nature of film shoots, set caterers often don’t know until a day or two ahead how many people they will feed each day.

Because the film’s needs can be so fluid, caterers end up doing a lot of last-minute planning, often calling in extra cooks with only hours to spare or trying to rent an extra food truck if the movie is filming a scene with hundreds of extras. Because everything is so last-minute, chefs often end up waking in the wee hours of the morning to purchase supplies and start cooking. If a shot runs long, meal time can get pushed back an hour or two, leaving the caterer to find a way to keep food fresh longer. Additionally, a chef may be pulled off the mass food prep to cook a specific meal for one of the headliners or to prepare an option for those with special food requirements, like gluten-free or vegetarian.

In recent years, on-set caterers have turned to using food trucks, which they can drive out to all but the most remote filming locations. Some film companies even have their own food trucks, allowing caterers to serve larger crowds. Caterers also aren’t exempt from the trends that restaurant chefs have to follow; local, organic, and plant-based foods have all been a big focus on movie sets in recent years.

Despite the difficulties inherent in feeding so many people in fluid conditions, caterers still fight for the opportunity to get into that field. To help balance the long hours and hard work, film catering chefs can join the Teamsters Union, granting them benefits and protections that the average chef doesn’t have access to and ensuring pay that can, in some cases, be double what restaurant chefs make.

Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.

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