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Food Server (non-restaurant)

Job Outlook: 14% (Much faster than average)

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What Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers Do About this section

Food and beverage serving and related workers
Food and beverage workers may work directly with customers.

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 About this section

Food and beverage serving and related workers
Food servers bring meals to customers outside a restaurant.

Food and beverage serving and related workers held about 4.4 million jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and beverage serving and related workers was distributed as follows:

Fast food and counter workers 3,455,500
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 389,000
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 333,600
Food servers, nonrestaurant 251,300

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

Restaurants and other eating places 75%
Healthcare and social assistance 5
Retail trade 5
Special food services 4
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

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.

How to Become a Food and Beverage Serving or Related Worker About this section

Food and beverage serving and related workers
Food and beverage and related workers need customer service skills.

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.

Important Qualities

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

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 shift doing physical tasks such as standing, carrying trays, and cleaning work areas.

Physical strength. Food and beverage serving and related workers need to be able to lift and carry stock and equipment that can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Pay About this section

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$22.00

Food preparation and serving related occupations

$13.65

Food and beverage serving and related workers

$12.49

 

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 About this section

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Food preparation and serving related occupations

20%

Food and beverage serving and related workers

17%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Overall employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,032,100 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 that began in 2020. Employment growth will vary by occupation.

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 will be needed.

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

Employment projections data for food and beverage serving and related workers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Food and beverage serving and related workers

4,429,300 5,169,400 17 740,000

Fast food and counter workers

35-3023 3,455,500 3,973,000 15 517,500 Get data

Food servers, nonrestaurant

35-3041 251,300 286,000 14 34,700 Get data

Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers

35-9011 389,000 492,500 27 103,600 Get data

Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop

35-9031 333,600 417,800 25 84,200 Get data

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