Food Service Industry: Definition & History

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Allison Moore

Allie teaches college business and culinary management courses. She has a master's degree in business administration.

The food service industry includes services and businesses that prepare and serve food. Explore the definition, history and origins, and current features of the food service industry and discover the culinary arts and the evolution of cuisine. Updated: 12/29/2021

The Business of Food

The food service industry encompasses all of the activities, services, and business functions involved in preparing and serving food to people eating away from home. This includes all types of restaurants from fine dining to fast food. It also includes institutional food operations at locations such as schools and hospitals, as well as other specialty vendors such as food truck operators and catering businesses.

Today's food service industry makes up 10% of the total workforce in the United States, which amounts to roughly 14 million workers. Average industry sales are over $780 billion annually, and there are currently over one million restaurant establishments across the U.S.

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  • 0:03 The Business of Food
  • 0:43 Origins
  • 1:38 The Culinary Arts
  • 3:23 The Evolution of Cuisine
  • 4:38 The Food Service…
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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The modern concept of preparing food as a craft and a form of business can be traced all the way back to at least the 11th century with medieval guilds. Guilds were made up of various types of merchants and craftsmen, and each guild provided a specialized good or service to the community. The guilds established more of an organized system within local economies and allowed people to purchase and trade from a variety of highly specialized vendors.

Bakers and butchers are just two examples of specialized food craftsmanship. Guild members would pass on their knowledge to new generations by hiring apprentices. These apprentices would train under the established experts and learn the specific skills required of the profession.

The guild system eventually fell out of favor in economic systems, but the concept of the apprenticeship is still very common in the culinary profession today, and many young chefs learn their craft through mentorship and job shadowing under the guidance of experienced chefs and food professionals.

The Culinary Arts

While the concept of designated cooks and bakers preparing food for others had been around for centuries, there was no standardization or common organization to the profession. In the early 19th century, a Frenchman by the name of Marie-Antoine Carême played an important role in the shaping of culinary artistry. He developed many original recipes and was highly skilled in creating elaborate centerpieces made entirely of food. He also published culinary texts with recipes and cooking terms, which provided cooks a common language and established a strong foundation for the advancement of professional cooking.

A second key contributor to the development and advancement of the food service industry was Auguste Escoffier, who authored cook books and culinary texts filled with recipes and instructions on fundamental cooking techniques. He also pioneered new concepts for kitchen organization and management. His works are still referenced and utilized in many of today's professional kitchens.

One of Escoffier's biggest contributions to the industry was his development and use of the brigade system, which streamlined kitchen jobs and helped to organize the flow of the food being cooked, plated, and served to guests. Within this system, each person in the brigade has a specific job at a specific station. Stations were created for every position, including frying stations, sauce stations, pastry stations, and more. Everything was orchestrated and overseen by the Chef de Cuisine, or the head of the kitchen.

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