Food Service Worker: Career Options and Requirements

Food service skills are generally learned through on-the-job training. Continue reading for an overview of the training requirements, as well as career and salary info for some career options in this field.

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Food service workers have numerous career options, including host or hostess, waiter or waitress, cook, bus person, server, dishwasher, and so forth. Generally speaking, most food service workers don't require any education beyond high school, as training is provided on the job. Experience is often preferred.

Essential Information

Food service workers are responsible for serving food and beverages and providing customer service. Various types of careers are available for individuals in this field, and there are no educational requirements to enter the workforce. Three common job options are host or hostess, waiter or waitress and cook.

Career Titles Host or Hostess Waiter or Waitress Cook
Required Education None; high school diploma may be preferred None; high school diploma may be preferred None; completion of a culinary program may be beneficial
Other Requirements On-the-job training On-the-job training On-the-job training
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for those working in restaurants, lounges and coffee shops 3% 4% for all types of cooks
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $19,180 for those working in restaurants, lounges and coffee shops $19,250 $23,100 for restaurant cooks; $19,080 for fast food cooks; $20,780 for short order cooks

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

There are many different career options for food service workers, including jobs as servers, bartenders, hostesses, dishwashers, line cooks, prep cooks and head chefs. Aspiring workers can look for job opportunities in fast food restaurants, coffee shops, cafeterias and fine dining establishments. Read more about a few of these positions below.

Host or Hostess

These food service workers primarily work at the very front of the restaurant, where they manage the reservation desk. When guests enter the restaurant, the host or hostess will greet them, guide them to an open table and hand out menus. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for hosts and hostesses in restaurants, lounges and coffee shops should increase by 4% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Their median salary as of May 2015 was $19,180.

Waiter or Waitress

In facilities that don't employ hosts or hostesses, waiters and waitresses may have some overlap with their duties, such as supplying menus and assigning guests to tables. Their main duties include taking guests' meal orders and submitting them to the kitchen for fulfillment. They also provide beverage service and may prepare some drinks. After guests leave, waiters and waitresses often need to clean up their tables and bus the dishes. Job growth for waiters and waitresses from 2014-2024 is expected to be 3%, per the BLS, and their median salary in 2015 was $19,250.

Cook

Cooks' duties vary, depending on what sort of dining facility employs them. For example, cooks may work in restaurants, fast food places, cafes, private households or cafeterias at various institutions. They prepare, plate and garnish food, and they may cook for individual orders or in large quantities. All types of cooks should see 4% growth in job openings from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. Some sample median salaries for cooks in 2015 were $23,100 for restaurant cooks, $19,080 for fast food cooks and $20,780 for short order cooks.

Skills

Although there are different duties for each type of career in the food service industry, many of the same skills are required in the field. Food service workers often work in fast-paced environments and need to be able to multitask. Hostesses, servers and bartenders work closely with customers and must have strong communication and customer service skills.

Requirements

Generally, there are not any formal education requirements for careers in food service, and previous work experience is valued higher than a college degree. While many employers prefer to hire applicants with a minimum of a high school diploma, a large majority of food service workers are teens and young adults who have had no previous work experience and no formal training. Prospective food service workers often shadow an experienced employee for a specified amount of time before they are ready to work alone.

Food service workers also receive training from employers. Training can be completed in the form of online classes and tutorials, handbooks and take-home study programs. For specialized jobs, such as bartenders, there are classes offered by vocational schools that teach aspiring professionals how to properly mix and pour drinks, stock a bar, and handle legal issues that may arise while working around alcoholic beverages. Cooks and chefs may also benefit from completing a culinary program.

The skills and duties for food service workers vary by position and employer, but these workers receive whatever necessary training on the job. A high school diploma or equivalent will usually suffice for admission. Food service workers can become hosts/hostesses, waiters/waitresses, or basic cooks.

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