How Can I Become a Cafeteria Worker?

Explore the career requirements for cafeteria workers. Get the facts about employment outlook, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cafeteria Worker?

Cafeteria workers may be employed in several industries, such as school and hospital cafeterias. These workers perform a wide variety of tasks, including helping to prepare food, greeting customers, serving customers portions of their meals and answering any customer questions. They may also help clean the kitchen and eating areas, stock tables with dishes, silverware and condiments as well as remove and restock trays. Cafeteria workers may need to help some customers to their seats with their trays if they need assistance. They usually work in a team under the direction of a manager. The table below can tell you about some of the skills that are useful. You can also see the predictions for job growth in this profession and learn about median annual salaries.

Training Required On-the-job training
Key Skills Physical stamina, customer service, communication skills, patience
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for all counter, cafeteria, food concession and coffee shop attendants)*
Median Salary (2015) $19,230 (for all counter, cafeteria, food concession and coffee shop attendants)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Where Could I Find Employment as a Cafeteria Worker?

Your main goal as a cafeteria worker is to prepare and serve food to large groups of individuals at one time. You might find a position working in the lunchroom of an elementary or secondary school or a dining hall of a college, prison, medical facility or large business center. You could probably find work in any facility that serves large groups of people without the assistance of waitstaff.

What Are the Job Duties I Might Have?

A cafeteria worker prepares foods to be serve during the hours the facility is open. Most cafeterias put trays of foods in a buffet-type setting, allowing individuals to walk through a line and choose their meal. You are typically responsible for ensuring that trays of food are in place and ready to be served. When you work in a cafeteria, you might also be asked to operate a cash register.

According to available job ads on Careerbuilder.com in Feb 2011, cafeteria attendants serve food to diners. This may involve scooping meals from their metal trays and placing appropriate portions onto the plates of diners. You might also serve up sandwiches, burgers and short-order foods. You may be required to wear protective gloves or hairnets to protect the food during this process. Additional duties may include setting up salad bars and condiment stations.

As a cafeteria worker or attendant, you could be responsible for cleaning up a dining area. You may remove dirty dishes from tables, wipe down tables and re-stack plates and silverware.

What Education or Training Will I Need?

You do not need to enroll in a formal education program to work as a cafeteria attendant. Most cafeterias and limited-service dining concerns provide on-the-job training. Some operations offer mandatory training programs. Others concerns have managers or fellow employees train you. While in training, you may learn how to properly serve foods, sanitize dining areas and operate a cash register.

If you are interested in moving up in the field, you might consider supplementing your experience with a Food Service Management Certificate. Such programs are offered through some community colleges and universities. They may provide you with a thorough understanding of nutrition, cost control, food safety and management.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups cafeteria workers into the same category as food concession and coffee shop counter attendants. It reported that attendants held around 486,650 jobs across the country in 2015 (www.bls.gov). About 21,680 attendants worked for elementary and secondary schools, while others attendants worked for areas such as grocery stores, motion picture and video industries and special food services. The median annual salary in the field in 2015 was $19,230.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Retail sales workers, bartenders and cashiers are all related professions that do not require any formal education but typically require on-the-job training. Retail sales workers aim to sell all kinds of products to consumers. They may specialize in selling bigger items like cars or appliances or work in retail stores to sell things like clothing and accessories. Bartenders work in bars, restaurants and other locations where alcoholic and mixed drinks are available. They prepare the drinks and check customers' identification to ensure they are of age. Cashiers can work in any place of business that requires someone to manage the cash, credit or check transactions customers use to pay for products or services.

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