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 eating and drinking establishments.
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 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.
The median hourly wage for food and beverage serving and related workers was $11.06 in May 2019.
Employment of food and beverage serving and related workers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much 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.
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.
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.
Food and beverage serving and related workers held about 5.3 million jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and beverage serving and related workers was distributed as follows:
|Fast food and counter workers||4,047,700|
|Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers||488,000|
|Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop||429,700|
|Food servers, nonrestaurant||284,600|
|Food preparation and serving related workers, all other||74,100|
The largest employers of food and beverage serving and related workers were as follows:
|Restaurants and other eating places||74%|
|Special food services||5|
|Healthcare and social assistance||5|
|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. Food preparation and serving related workers, all other, in particular, have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. (“All other” titles represent occupations with a wide range of characteristics that do not fit into any of the other detailed 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.
Many food and beverage serving and related workers are employed 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.
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||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.
|No formal educational credential||$23,680|
Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.
|No formal educational credential||$23,650|
Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods.
|See How to Become One||$26,360|
Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$56,640|
Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.
|No formal educational credential||$24,800|
Retail Sales Workers
Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers’ payments.
|No formal educational credential||$25,440|
Waiters and Waitresses
Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.
|No formal educational credential||$22,890|
For more information on food and beverage serving careers, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-and-beverage-serving-and-related-workers.htm (visited ).