Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 food service worker Jobs

  • Food Service Worker - (Various Shifts Available) - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital - Palo Alto, CA

    Our six centers of excellence provide comprehensive services and deep expertise in key obstetric and pediatric areas: brain & behavior, cancer

  • Food Service Worker - Anderson Center for Autism - Staatsburg, NY

    Anderson Center for Autism is committed to provide a diverse workforce by ensuring that discrimination barriers to equal employment opportunity and

  • Black Walnut Cafe - FOH Guest Service Partner - Black Walnut Cafe - Coppell, TX

    This partner is responsible for following

See all food service worker jobs

What Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.

Duties of Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

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

  • Greet customers and answer their questions about menu items and specials
  • Take food or drink orders from customers
  • Prepare food and drink orders, such as sandwiches, salads, 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
  • Clean assigned work areas, dining tables, or serving counters
  • Replenish and stock service stations, cabinets, and tables
  • Set tables or prepare food trays 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. Depending on the establishment, they take customers’ food and drink orders and serve food and beverages.

Most work as part of a team, helping coworkers to improve workflow and customer service. The job titles of food and beverage serving and related workers vary with where they work and what they do.

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

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, are employed primarily by fast-food restaurants. They take food and beverage orders, prepare or retrieve items when ready, fill cups with beverages, and accept customers’ payments. They also heat food items and make salads and sandwiches.

Counter attendants take orders and serve food over a counter in snack bars, cafeterias, movie theaters, and coffee shops. They fill cups with coffee, soda, and other beverages, and may prepare fountain specialties, such as milkshakes and ice cream sundaes. Counter attendants take carryout orders from diners and wrap or place items in containers. They clean counters, prepare itemized bills, and accept customers’ payments.

Food servers, nonrestaurant, serve food to customers outside of a restaurant environment. Many deliver room service meals in hotels or meals to hospital rooms. Some act as carhops, bringing orders to customers in parked cars.

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 keeping serving areas stocked with supplies. They also may help waiters and waitresses by bringing meals out of the kitchen, distributing dishes to diners, filling water glasses, and delivering condiments. Cafeteria attendants stock serving tables with food trays, dishes, and silverware. They sometimes carry trays to dining tables for customers. Bartender helpers keep bar equipment clean and glasses washed.

Hosts and hostesses greet customers and manage reservation and waiting lists. They may direct customers to coatrooms, restrooms, or a waiting area until their table is ready. Hosts and hostesses assign guests to tables suitable for the size of their group, escort patrons to their seats, and provide menus. They also take reservations over the phone, arrange parties, and help with other customers’ requests.

Work Environment for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Food and beverage serving and related workers held about 4.7 million jobs in 2014. About 73 percent worked in restaurants, including full-service and fast-food restaurants in 2014.

Employment in the detailed occupations of the food and beverage serving and related workers group in 2014 was as follows:

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,159,700
  Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 481,200
  Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 415,300
  Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 376,400
  Food servers, nonrestaurant 253,100
  Food preparation and serving related workers, all other 46,100

Food and beverage serving and related workers are on their feet most of the time and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and glassware. 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. As a result, counter attendants, food servers, dining room and cafeteria attendants, and bartender helpers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Common hazards include slips, cuts, and burns, but the injuries are seldom serious. To reduce these risks, workers often wear gloves, aprons, or nonslip shoes.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Worker Work Schedules

Many food and beverage serving and related workers were employed part time in 2014. For example, about 1 in 2 combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, the largest occupation in this profile, worked part time in 2014. Because food service and drinking establishments typically have extended dining hours, early morning, late evening, weekend, and holidays work is common. Those who work in school cafeterias have more regular hours and 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 many teenagers, who can gain work experience. Compared with all other occupations, a much larger proportion of food and beverage serving and related workers were 16 to 19 years old in 2014.

How to Become a Food and Beverage Serving Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers near you!

Most food and beverage service jobs are entry-level jobs and do not require a high school diploma. The majority of workers receive short-term on-the-job training.

Most states require workers, such as nonrestaurant servers, who serve alcoholic beverages to be 18 years of age or older.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Worker Education

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

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Worker Training

Most workers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting several weeks. Training includes basic customer service, kitchen safety, safe food-handling procedures, and good sanitation habits.

Some employers, particularly those in fast-food restaurants, teach new workers with the use of self-study programs, online programs, audiovisual presentations, or instructional booklets that explain food preparation and service procedures. However, most food and beverage serving and related workers learn their skills by watching and working with more experienced workers.

Some full-service restaurants provide new dining room employees with classroom training sessions that alternate with periods of on-the-job work experience. The training communicates the operating philosophy of the restaurant, helps new employees establish a personal rapport with other staff, teaches employees formal serving techniques, and instills a desire in the staff to work as a team.

Some nonrestaurant servers and bartender helpers who work 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 and can be taken online or in-house.

Advancement for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Advancement opportunities are limited to those who remain on the job for a long time. However, some dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers may advance to waiter, waitress, or bartender positions as they learn the basics of serving food or preparing drinks.

Important Qualities for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

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.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers was $9.16 in May 2015. 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 $8.02, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $12.42.

Median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in May 2015 were as follows:

Food servers, nonrestaurant $9.82
Food preparation and serving related workers, all other 9.80
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 9.27
Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 9.24
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 9.22
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 9.09

Although some workers in these occupations earn tips, most get their earnings from hourly wages alone. Many beginning or inexperienced workers earn the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009), although many states set minimum wages higher than the federal minimum.

Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage, which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending of the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

According to the FLSA, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

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 the costs from the worker’s wages.

Many food and beverage serving and related workers were employed part time in 2014. For example, about 1 in 2 combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, the largest occupation in this profile, worked part time in 2014. Because of dining hours in food service and drinking establishments, early morning, late evening, weekend, and holidays work is common. Those who work in school cafeterias have more regular hours and 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 many teenagers, who can gain work experience. Compared with all other occupations, a much larger proportion of food and beverage serving and related workers were 16 to 19 years old in 2014.

Job Outlook for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth, however, will vary by occupation (see table below for details).

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 workers, including fast-food workers, will be required to serve customers.

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.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers Job Prospects

Job opportunities for food and beverage serving and related workers will be excellent because many workers leave the occupation each year, resulting in a large number of job openings.

Workers with related work experience and excellent customer-service skills should have the best job opportunities at upscale restaurants. Still, those seeking positions at these establishments will face strong competition because the prospect of higher tips attracts many applicants.

Employment projections data for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Food and beverage serving and related workers 4,731,800 5,183,600 10 451,800
  Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,159,700 3,503,200 11 343,500
  Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 481,200 510,000 6 28,900
  Food servers, nonrestaurant 253,100 287,000 13 33,800
  Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 415,300 440,700 6 25,400
  Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 376,400 393,200 4 16,700
  Food preparation and serving related workers, all other 46,100 49,600 8 3,500


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

Explore more careers: View all Careers or Browse Careers by Category

Search for jobs: