How Do I Become a Food Service Worker?

Explore the career requirements for food service workers. Get the facts about education and training, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Food Service Worker?

Food service workers ensure that customers in cafeterias, coffee shops, restaurants, snack bars, and other food-preparation establishments receive the food and beverages they order. They greet customers and provide excellent customer service by answering any questions and being friendly. Food service workers take customers' orders, help prepare orders and serve orders. They may also be responsible for cleaning different areas, restocking supplies and preparing areas for new customers. Many duties depend on your place of work, but most food service workers work as part of a team. The table listed below includes information about education and training, salary, and job outlook for food service workers.

Education Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Greeting customers, taking orders, preparing and serving food and beverages, cleaning tables and other areas
Job Growth (2014-2024)*10% (for all food and beverage serving and related workers)
Median Salary (2015)*$18,910 (for combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Food Service Worker?

Food service industry jobs, such as fast food workers, dining room personnel and counter attendants, are often held by high school and college students. As such, no stringent training requirements are in place for many of these positions. However, large numbers of employers prefer to hire high school graduates for hosting, serving and bartending positions. Training usually occurs on the job or through employer-sponsored training programs. Professions such as bartending require specialized training. If you choose, you can acquire food handling training and bartending training through some vocational and technical schools, professional schools of bartending or community colleges.

Bartending programs might include lessons in mixed and shaken drinks, garnishes and the use of glassware. Your program might also prepare you for the ServSafe Alcohol Awareness Certification. You'll need to be 18 or older to participate in such classes. A food service certificate program might offer courses in intermediate cooking, food safety, sanitation, baking and dining room service. An associate's degree program in food and beverage may consist of courses on meal planning and nutrition, food management, professional cooking, beverage control, supervisory management and general psychology.

What Are Some Food Service Jobs?

The food service industry employs many types of workers. Waiters and waitresses receive and serve customers' orders, and they present checks at the end of the meal. Hosts and hostesses are responsible for making reservations, greeting guests, assigning seats and showing customers to their dining tables. Bartenders prepare and serve mixed drinks, beer and wine to patrons. They also check identification to ensure they don't serve anyone under legal drinking age.

Dining room attendants may serve diners, set tables, retrieve items upon customers' request, and return dirty dishes to the kitchen. Fast food workers receive customers' menu orders and make sandwiches and salads, as well as receive payments. A counter attendant might work in movie theaters, snack bars, coffee shops or cafeterias. They receive orders and serve food, milkshakes, sodas and coffee. Cafeteria workers pre-cook food in large amounts and serve from steam tables or carts.

What Is the Job Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that jobs in the food service industry would increase by about 10% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This was due in part to high turnover, with workers leaving the food service industry for other jobs. Despite the increase, job growth was projected to be slowed by expanding numbers of restaurants offering take-out food.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Becoming a cashier is an alternative career that does not require any formal education. They are responsible for the payment transactions from customers for a product. Flight attendants are also related, but require a high school diploma or equivalent. These professionals serve airline passengers during flights, as well as prepare them for possible emergencies.

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