Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in 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 work part time.

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

Salary: The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers is $12.49.

Job Outlook: Employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.

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

Top 3 Food Service Worker Jobs

  • Food Service Worker - Grace Management INC - Camp Pendleton South, CA

    Food Service Worker (FSW) works under the direction of the Food Service Manager/Lead Supervisor. The FSW performs a wide variety of simple serving and cleaning tasks under general supervision

  • Food Service Worker - JWMills - Fort Irwin, CA

    Food Service Worker Basic Qualifications * Must have a strong customer service , experienced with food service . * Ability to provide cleaning services within a Food Service environment. * Must have ...

  • Food Service Worker (On-Call) - Shriners Children's - Honolulu, HI

    The Food Service Worker is responsible for preparing the buffet line, serving customers, and making sure the line is well-kept and clean. This person is also responsible for taking food orders for ...

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

Food and beverage serving and related workers hold about 4.1 million jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and beverage serving and related workers is 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 are 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 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 for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food preparation and serving areas in restaurants often have potential safety hazards, such as hot ovens and slippery floors. "Food preparation and serving related workers, all other," in particular, 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.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Worker Schedules

Many food and beverage serving and related workers are employed part time. For example, about half of combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, the largest occupation in this profile, work part time. 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 are 16 to 19 years old.

How to Become a Food Service 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 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 for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

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 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 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 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.

Food Service Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers is $12.49. 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 are 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

The median hourly wages for food and beverage serving and related workers in the top industries in which they work are 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 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 9 percent over the next ten years, 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 of Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

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, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Food and beverage serving and related workers 4,146,000 5,518,900 9 372,900
  Fast food and counter workers 3,195,600 3,438,800 8 243,200
  Food servers, nonrestaurant 247,500 264,800 7 17,300
  Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 355,200 415,100 17 59,900
  Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop 347,700 400,300 15 52,600


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


Explore more careers: View all Careers or the Top 30 Career Profiles


Search for jobs: