Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Summary

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Quick Facts: Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
2016 Median Pay $19,630 per year
$9.44 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 5,122,600
Job Outlook, 2016-26 14% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 694,500

What Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers Do

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.

Work Environment

Food and beverage serving and related workers are employed in restaurants, schools, hospitals, cafeterias, and other dining places. Work shifts often include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Many food and beverage serving and related workers worked part time in 2016.

How to Become a Food and Beverage Serving or Related Worker

Most food and beverage serving and related workers learn their skills on the job. No formal education or previous work experience is required.

Pay

The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers was $9.44 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects in most dining establishments will be excellent because many workers leave the occupation each year, resulting in numerous job openings.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for food and beverage serving and related workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of food and beverage serving and related workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about food and beverage serving and related workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

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

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 or drink orders from customers
  • Relay customers’ orders to other kitchen staff
  • Prepare food and drink orders, such as sandwiches, salads, and coffee
  • Accept payments and balance receipts
  • 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 and fast-casual 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.

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.

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.

Hosts and hostesses greet customers and manage reservations and waiting lists. They may direct customers to coatrooms, restrooms, or a waiting area until their table is ready. Hosts and hostesses provide menus after seating guests.

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 5.1 million jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and beverage serving and related workers was distributed as follows:

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,452,200
Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 505,200
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 431,200
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 409,200
Food servers, nonrestaurant 263,800
Food preparation and serving related workers, all other 60,900

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

Restaurants and other eating places 74%
Retail trade 5
Special food services 5
Healthcare and social assistance 4
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

Food and beverage serving and related workers spend most of the time on their feet 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 one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. 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.

Work Schedules

Many food and beverage serving and related workers were employed part time in 2016. For example, about half of combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, the largest occupation in this profile, worked part time in 2016. 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 2016.

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.

Most food and beverage service workers receive short-term on-the-job training. There are no formal educational requirements.

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

Education

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

Training

Most workers learn through 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 duties 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-person.

Advancement

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

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 work time standing, carrying heavy trays, cleaning work areas, and attending to customers’ needs.

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 2016

Total, all occupations

$17.81

Food preparation and serving related occupations

$10.01

Food and beverage serving and related workers

$9.44

 

The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers was $9.44 in May 2016. 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 $8.13, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $12.98.

Median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in May 2016 were as follows:

Food servers, nonrestaurant $10.21
Food preparation and serving related workers, all other 10.14
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 9.71
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 9.60
Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 9.60
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 9.35

In May 2016, the median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private $10.68
Healthcare and social assistance 10.52
Retail trade 10.26
Special food services 10.01
Restaurants and other eating places 9.30

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 ($7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009), which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Also according to the FLSA, tipped employees are employees 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 listing 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 2016. For example, about half of combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, the largest occupation in this profile, worked part time in 2016. 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 2016.

Job Outlook About this section

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Food and beverage serving and related workers

14%

Food preparation and serving related occupations

9%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Overall employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

Job Prospects

Job prospects 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 prospects at higher paying restaurants. Still, those seeking positions at these establishments will face strong competition because the prospect of higher earnings attracts many applicants.

Employment projections data for food and beverage serving and related workers, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Food and beverage serving and related workers

5,122,600 5,817,000 14 694,500

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food

35-3021 3,452,200 4,032,100 17 579,900 employment projections excel document xlsx

Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop

35-3022 505,200 528,400 5 23,200 employment projections excel document xlsx

Food servers, nonrestaurant

35-3041 263,800 290,700 10 26,900 employment projections excel document xlsx

Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers

35-9011 431,200 461,700 7 30,500 employment projections excel document xlsx

Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop

35-9031 409,200 437,500 7 28,300 employment projections excel document xlsx

Food preparation and serving related workers, all other

35-9099 60,900 66,500 9 5,600 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of food and beverage serving and related workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Bartenders

Bartenders

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

No formal educational credential $20,800
Cashiers

Cashiers

Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

No formal educational credential $20,180
Cooks

Cooks

Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods, which may include soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

See How to Become One $22,850
Flight attendants

Flight Attendants

Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers while aboard planes.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,500
Food preparation workers

Food Preparation Workers

Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers. Food preparation workers prepare cold foods, slice meat, peel and cut vegetables, brew coffee or tea, and perform many other food service tasks.

No formal educational credential $21,440
Retail sales workers

Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers’ payments. There are two types of retail sales workers: retail salespersons, who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles; and parts salespersons, who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts.

No formal educational credential $22,900
Waiters and waitresses

Waiters and Waitresses

Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.

No formal educational credential $19,990
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-and-beverage-serving-and-related-workers.htm (visited November 24, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.