Food and beverage serving and related workers take and prepare orders, clear tables, and do other tasks associated with providing food and drink to customers.

Duties

Food and beverage serving and related workers typically do the following:

  • Greet customers and answer their questions about menu items and specials
  • Take food and drink orders from customers
  • Prepare food and drink orders, such as sandwiches and coffee
  • Relay customers’ orders to other kitchen staff
  • Serve food and drinks to customers at a counter, at a stand, or in a hotel room
  • Accept payment and provide customers with receipts
  • Clean assigned work areas, such as dining tables or serving counters
  • Stock service stations, cabinets, and tables
  • Set tables or prepare food stations for new customers

Food and beverage serving and related workers are the front line of customer service in restaurants, cafeterias, and other food service establishments. They seat customers, take or prepare food and drink orders, clear and set tables, and serve food and beverages. Depending on the establishment, they may do some or all of these tasks during their shift. 

Most work as part of a team, although their responsibilities and job titles vary.

The following are examples of types of food and beverage serving and related workers:

Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers—sometimes collectively referred to as bus staff—help waiters, waitresses, and bartenders by cleaning and setting tables, removing dirty dishes, and stocking serving areas with supplies. They also may help waiters and waitresses by bringing meals from the kitchen, distributing dishes to diners, filling water glasses, and delivering condiments.

Fast food and counter workers are employed primarily by limited-service restaurants, cafeterias, and snack bars at which customers generally order and pay before eating. These workers take food and beverage orders, prepare or retrieve items, and accept payment. They also heat food items and make salads and sandwiches.

Hosts and hostesses greet customers, seat guests, and manage reservations and waiting lists. They also may provide menus, take and prepare to-go orders, and assist with maintaining cleanliness of the dining area.

Nonrestaurant food servers provide food to customers outside a restaurant environment. For example, they may deliver room-service orders in hotels or meals to hospital rooms. Some work as carhops at venues such as drive-in movie theaters, bringing orders to customers in parked cars.

Work Environment

Food and beverage serving and related workers held about 4.1 million jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and beverage serving and related workers was distributed as follows:

Fast food and counter workers 3,195,600
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers          355,200
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 347,700
Food servers, nonrestaurant 247,500

The largest employers of food and beverage serving and related workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 77%
Retail trade 5
Healthcare and social assistance 5
Educational services; state, local, and private          3
Special food services 3

Food and beverage serving and related workers spend most of their shift on their feet. They carry trays of food, dishes, or glassware, which are often heavy. During busy dining periods, they are under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation and serving areas in restaurants often have potential safety hazards, such as hot ovens and slippery floors. Common injuries include slips, cuts, and burns. To reduce these risks, workers may wear gloves, aprons, or nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Part-time work is common for food and beverage serving and related workers. Because restaurants and other eating places typically have extended dining hours, work shifts often include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Work may be seasonal. Food and beverage serving and related workers may not work or may have limited hours during certain times of the year. For example, those in school cafeterias may work only during the school year, usually 9 to 10 months.

In addition, business hours in restaurants allow for flexible schedules that appeal to teenagers. Food and beverage serving and related workers employs more 16- to 19-year-olds than any other occupation.

Education and Training

Food and beverage serving and related workers typically have no requirements for education to enter the occupation. They receive short-term on-the-job training.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages, even as an accompaniment to meals, to be at least 18 years old.

Education

There typically are no formal education requirements for becoming a food and beverage serving worker.

Training

Workers typically learn through on-the-job training, which may last from few days to several weeks. Training includes basic customer service, kitchen safety, safe food-handling procedures, and sanitation guidelines.

Food and beverage serving and related workers typically learn their duties by watching and working with experienced staff. Some employers, particularly those in fast-food restaurants, have specific training programs for new workers.

Bartender helpers and other workers in establishments where alcohol is served may need training on state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Some states, counties, and cities mandate such training, which typically lasts a few hours.

Advancement

Some food and beverage serving and related workers advance to waiter, waitress, or bartender positions as they learn the basics of serving food or preparing drinks. Kitchen staff may advance to become food preparation workers or cooks. Still others may move up to supervisory or food service manager positions.

Personality and Interests

Food and beverage serving and related workers typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a food and beverage serving and related worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Food and beverage serving and related workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Food and beverage serving and related workers must listen carefully to their customers’ orders and relay them correctly to the kitchen staff so that the orders are prepared to the customers’ request.

Customer-service skills. Food service establishments rely on good food and customer service to keep customers and succeed in a competitive industry. As a result, workers should be courteous and be able to attend to customers’ requests.

Physical stamina. Food and beverage serving and related workers spend most of their worktime standing, carrying heavy trays, cleaning work areas, and attending to customers’ needs.

Pay

The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers was $12.49 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.80, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $16.40.

Median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in May 2021 were as follows:

Food servers, nonrestaurant  $13.81
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers            13.06
Fast food and counter workers 12.07
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 11.83

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Healthcare and social assistance $14.05
Educational services; state, local, and private          14.00
Retail trade 13.94
Special food services 13.56
Restaurants and other eating places 11.61

Although some workers in these occupations earn tips, most get their earnings from hourly wages alone.

In some restaurants, workers may contribute all or a portion of their tips to a tip pool, which is distributed among qualifying workers. Tip pools allow workers who do not usually receive tips directly from customers, such as dining room attendants, to be part of a team and to share in the rewards for good service.

Employers may provide meals and uniforms but may deduct those costs from the worker’s wages.

Part-time work is common for food and beverage serving and related workers. Because restaurants and other eating places typically have extended dining hours, work shifts often include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Work may be seasonal. Food and beverage serving and related workers may not work or may have limited hours during certain times of the year. For example, those in school cafeterias may work only during the school year, usually 9 to 10 months.

In addition, business hours in restaurants allow for flexible schedules that appeal to teenagers. Food and beverage serving and related workers employs more 16- to 19-year-olds than any other occupation.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 955,100 openings for food and beverage serving and related workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in these occupations is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Projected employment of food and beverage serving and related workers varies by occupation (see table).

As a growing population continues to dine out, purchase take-out meals, or have food delivered, more restaurants, particularly fast-food and casual dining restaurants, are expected to open. In response, more food and beverage serving and related workers are expected to be needed.

In addition, nontraditional food service operations, such as those inside grocery stores and cafeterias in hospitals and residential care facilities, are expected to serve more prepared meals. Because these workers are essential to the operation of a food-serving establishment, they should continue to be in demand.

For More Information

For more information on food and beverage serving careers, visit

National Restaurant Association

 

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I think I have found an error or inaccurate information on this page. Who should I contact?

This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at help@truity.com.

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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