What Is a Food Service Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a food service specialist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Restaurant & Catering Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Food Service Specialist?

A food service specialist, also known as a food preparation worker, works under the direction of cooks, chefs and food service manager to assist with the preparation of food and beverages. They may work in the military or in non-military settings like restaurants, cafeterias and cafes. In some commercial establishments, they may take orders and complete customer transactions.

Find out about food service specialist education requirements and salary potential by perusing the following chart.

Degree Required None required; military training programs and certificate options available
Education Field of Study Food service
Key Skills Culinary skills, adaptability, stamina
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for non-military food prep workers)*
Average Salary (2015) $22,050 (for non-military food prep workers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Duties of a Food Service Specialist?

A food service specialist is responsible for menu planning, ordering supplies and cooking a variety of foods. The duties of a food service specialist are similar, whether you're interested in a military or civilian career.

For example, in the U.S. Coast Guard, as a food service specialist you would work on any Coast Guard cutter, preparing meals and ensuring that foodstuffs are stored properly, according to Coast Guard regulations (www.gocoastguard.com).

The term 'food service specialist' can also refer to a civilian position that translates into a kitchen prep worker. Military training may prepare you for a career as a cook or baker, in a variety of places that include kitchen and dining facilities.

What Training Is Required?

As a prospective food service specialist in the U.S. Army, you would have to complete a 9-week basic training program during which you would learn the food-related skills needed to prepare a variety of meals for other soldiers. In the Coast Guard, there are options for training, including either a 12-week specialized instruction program or on-the-job training. The Coast Guard's program can include accounting, administration and advanced baking. For either branch of the military, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that a high school diploma is a requirement (www.bls.gov).

As a civilian, a kitchen prep worker is required to have a high school diploma, according to the BLS. Colleges offer certificates of completion for food service specialists. These programs include training in sanitation practices, identification and preparation of various cuts of meat and even cooking to order, or à la carte.

How Much Can I Earn?

According to BLS, a food service specialist in the military could earn anywhere between $1,566.90 and $5,804.70 per month. A food service specialist is an enlisted member of the military. As a result, the potential salary depends on the time you've served in the military, your rank and duties.

The BLS reports that in 2015, there were 862,740 food prep workers employed in the United States. In 2015, the majority of these individuals earned between $8.20 and $14.43 per hour, or $17,060 to $30,010 annually.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking for a culinary career, you could also consider becoming a baker. Bakers specialize in the preparation of baked goods like bread, cakes, bagels and pastries. Although no formal education is required for this job, a postsecondary certificate or degree in baking/pastry arts may help you improve your skills. Alternatively, you could get a food industry job focusing specifically on customer service, such as a waiter or waitress position. Waiters and waitresses typically work in restaurants and similar dining establishments where they take orders, carry food to the table and clean up after customers. You don't need any particular education to work as a waiter or waitress.

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