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Is your lunch hour the highlight of your workday? Maybe a career in food service is just your dish. Here are some facts about food service occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Overview Food service workers work the front lines of eating and drinking establishments, performing duties that range from greeting customers to cleaning up after meals. They take food and drink orders, serve meals, explain menu items and specials and work together as a team to keep everything running smoothly. One-fourth of food and beverage service workers are 16- to 19-year-olds, and many people use these jobs as a quick source of income, not as a career.
Training and Education There are no formal educational requirements, though some employers prefer a high school diploma. Many are full-time students or homemakers. Usually, these people have little or no work experience. Most food service workers pick up skills on the job by shadowing or observing more experienced workers. Some employers also do self-instruction programs or formal training. Bartenders must be at least 21 years old, and they often attend bartending classes to learn drink recipes and familiarize themselves with local alcohol laws. A clean appearance, pleasant personality, good memory and foreign language skills are desirable to food service employers.
Opportunities Most jobs for food and beverage servers and related occupations are in restaurants, coffee shops and bars, but opportunities also exist in the amusement park, gambling and recreation industries, schools, grocery stores, nursing care facilities, civic and social organizations and hospitals. Typical jobs include: Waiters and waitresses, who take customers' orders, serve food and beverages, prepare the bill and sometimes accept payments. Bartenders, who fill drink orders from patrons at the bar or from waiters and waitresses who place orders for their customers. They also check the identification of bar patrons to be sure they meet minimum age requirements. Hosts and hostesses, who welcome guests and maintain reservations or waiting lists. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers, who assist waiters, waitresses and bartenders, keeping their areas stocked and removing dirty dishes. Combined food preparation and serving workers take orders from customers, and also cook and package food, make coffee and fill drink cups. These people often work in fast-food restaurants. Counter attendants, who take orders and serve food in coffee shops, cafeterias and takeout eateries. Food service managers, who are responsible for the daily operations of food service establishments.
Pros and Cons of Food Service Food service establishments offer flexible hours and part-time availability. Because these jobs require little prior experience, they are a good way for students and teenagers to gain work experience or earn spending money. Pay can be high for skilled workers in busy, expensive restaurants where there is potential for high tips. However, these jobs require workers to be on their feet most of the day carrying heavy trays. Customers are sometimes difficult or demanding, and care must be taken to avoid slips, falls or burns. Opportunities for advancement are limited. Salary Earnings for food and beverage service jobs are usually determined by a combination of hourly wages and tips. Earnings vary greatly based on the type of job and establishment. According to the BLS, in 2002 the median hourly earnings of waiters and waitresses were $6.80. Bartenders earned $7.21, hosts and hostesses earned $7.36 and combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast food) were paid $6.97. Counter attendants earned $7.32 and dishwashers, $7.15. The median annual earnings of food service managers were $35,790.
Job Outlook Job openings in this industry are expected to be abundant through 2012, stemming from increase in population, personal incomes and leisure time. However, most of these openings will arise from the need to replace workers who leave the industry. Competition will be stiffest for waiter, waitress and bartender jobs in popular restaurants with a high tips potential. The addition of healthier items to fast food menus and Americans' fast-paced lifestyles are expected to drive employment at fast-food restaurants. Source: BLS September 2004
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