Most jobs are part time so many opportunities exist for young
people—about one-fourth of these workers were 16 to 19 years
old, almost six times the proportion for all workers.
Job openings are expected to be abundant through 2014 because
many of these workers transfer to other occupations or stop
working, creating numerous openings.
Tips comprise a major portion of earnings, so keen competition
is expected for jobs where potential earnings from tips are
greatest—bartenders, waiters and waitresses, and other jobs
in popular restaurants and fine dining establishments.
Nature of the Work
Food and beverage serving and related workers are the front line
of customer service in restaurants, coffee shops, and other food
service establishments. These workers greet customers, escort
them to seats and hand them menus, take food and drink orders,
and serve food and beverages. They also answer questions, explain
menu items and specials, and keep tables and dining areas clean
and set for new diners. Most work as part of a team, helping coworkers
to improve workflow and customer service.
Waiters and waitresses, the largest group of these workers,
take customers’ orders, serve food and beverages, prepare itemized
checks, and sometimes accept payment. Their specific duties vary
considerably, depending on the establishment. In coffee shops
serving routine, straightforward fare, such as salads, soups,
and sandwiches, servers are expected to provide fast, efficient,
and courteous service. In fine dining restaurants, where more
complicated meals are prepared and often served over several courses,
waiters and waitresses provide more formal service emphasizing
personal, attentive treatment and a more leisurely pace. They
may recommend certain dishes and identify ingredients or explain
how various items on the menu are prepared. Some prepare salads,
desserts, or other menu items tableside. Additionally, they may
check the identification of patrons to ensure they meet the minimum
age requirement for the purchase of alcohol and tobacco products.
Waiters and waitresses sometimes perform the duties of other
food and beverage service workers. These tasks may include escorting
guests to tables, serving customers seated at counters, clearing
and setting up tables, or operating a cash register. However,
full-service restaurants frequently hire other staff, such as
hosts and hostesses, cashiers, or dining room attendants, to perform
Bartenders fill drink orders either taken directly from
patrons at the bar or through waiters and waitresses who place
drink orders for dining room customers. Bartenders check identification
of customers seated at the bar, to ensure they meet the minimum
age requirement for the purchase of alcohol and tobacco products.
They prepare mixed drinks, serve bottled or draught beer, and
pour wine or other beverages. Bartenders must know a wide range
of drink recipes and be able to mix drinks accurately, quickly,
and without waste. Besides mixing and serving drinks, bartenders
stock and prepare garnishes for drinks; maintain an adequate supply
of ice, glasses, and other bar supplies; and keep the bar area
clean for customers. They also may collect payment, operate the
cash register, wash glassware and utensils, and serve food to
customers seated at the bar. Bartenders usually are responsible
for ordering and maintaining an inventory of liquor, mixes, and
other bar supplies.
The majority of bartenders directly serve and interact with patrons.
Bartenders should be friendly and enjoy talking with customers.
Bartenders at service bars, on the other hand, have less contact
with customers. They work in small bars often located off the
kitchen in restaurants, hotels, and clubs where only waiters and
waitresses place drink orders. Some establishments, especially
larger, higher volume ones, use equipment that automatically measures,
pours and mixes drinks at the push of a button. Bartenders who
use this equipment, however, still must work quickly to handle
a large volume of drink orders and be familiar with the ingredients
for special drink requests. Much of a bartender’s work still must
be done by hand to fill each individual order.
Hosts and hostesses welcome guests and maintain reservation
or waiting lists. They may direct patrons to coatrooms, restrooms,
or to a place to wait 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 schedule
dining reservations, arrange parties, and organize any special
services that are required. In some restaurants, they act as cashiers.
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers
assist waiters, waitresses, and bartenders by cleaning tables,
removing dirty dishes, and keeping serving areas stocked with
supplies. Sometimes called backwaiters or runners, they bring
meals out of the kitchen and assist waiters and waitresses by
distributing dishes to individual diners. They also replenish
the supply of clean linens, dishes, silverware, and glasses in
the dining room and keep the bar stocked with glasses, liquor,
ice, and drink garnishes. Dining room attendants set tables with
clean tablecloths, napkins, silverware, glasses, and dishes and
serve ice water, rolls, and butter. At the conclusion of meals,
they remove dirty dishes and soiled linens from tables. Cafeteria
attendants stock serving tables with food, trays, dishes, and
silverware and may carry trays to dining tables for patrons. Bartender
helpers keep bar equipment clean and wash glasses. Dishwashers
clean dishes, cutlery, and kitchen utensils and equipment.
Counter attendants take orders and serve food in cafeterias,
coffee shops, and carryout eateries. In cafeterias, they serve
food displayed on steam tables, carve meat, dish out vegetables,
ladle sauces and soups, and fill beverage glasses. In lunchrooms
and coffee shops, counter attendants take orders from customers
seated at the counter, transmit orders to the kitchen, and pick
up and serve food. They also fill cups with coffee, soda, and
other beverages and prepare fountain specialties, such as milkshakes
and ice cream sundaes. Counter attendants also take carryout orders
from diners and wrap or place items in containers. They clean
counters, write itemized checks, and sometimes accept payment.
Some counter attendants may prepare short-order items, such as
sandwiches and salads.
Some food and beverage serving workers take orders from customers
at counters or drive-through windows at fast-food restaurants.
They assemble orders, hand them to customers, and accept payment.
Many of these are combined food preparation and serving workers
who also cook and package food, make coffee, and fill beverage
cups using drink-dispensing machines.
Other workers serve food to patrons outside of a restaurant environment,
such as in hotels, hospital rooms, or cars.
Food and beverage service 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. The work is relatively safe, but care
must be taken to avoid slips, falls, and burns.
Part-time work is more common among food and beverage serving
and related workers than among workers in almost any other occupation.
In 2004, those on part-time schedules included half of all waiters
and waitresses, and 40 percent of all bartenders.
Food service and drinking establishments typically maintain long
dining hours and offer flexible and varied work opportunities.
Many food and beverage serving and related workers work evenings,
weekends, and holidays. Many students and teenagers seek part
time or seasonal work as food and beverage serving and related
workers as a first job to gain work experience or to earn spending
money while in school. Around one-fourth of food and beverage
serving and related workers were 16 to 19 years old—about six
times the proportion for all workers.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There are no specific educational requirements for food and beverage
service jobs. Many employers prefer to hire high school graduates
for waiter and waitress, bartender, and host and hostess positions,
but completion of high school usually is not required for fast-food
workers, counter attendants, dishwashers, and dining room attendants
and bartender helpers. For many people a job as a food and beverage
service worker serves as a source of immediate income, rather
than a career. Many entrants to these jobs are in their late teens
or early twenties and have a high school education or less. Usually,
they have little or no work experience. Many are full-time students
or homemakers. Food and beverage service jobs are a major source
of part-time employment for high school and college students.
Restaurants rely on good food and quality customer service to
retain loyal customers and succeed in a competitive industry.
Food and beverage serving and related workers who exhibit excellent
personal qualities—such as a neat clean appearance, a well-spoken
manner, an ability to work as a member of team, and a pleasant
way with patrons—will be highly sought after.
Waiters and waitresses need a good memory to avoid confusing
customers’ orders and to recall faces, names, and preferences
of frequent patrons. These workers also should be comfortable
using computers to place orders and generate customers’ bills.
Some may need to be quick at arithmetic so they can total bills
manually. Knowledge of a foreign language is helpful to communicate
with a diverse clientele and staff. Prior experience waiting on
tables is preferred by restaurants and hotels that have rigid
table service standards. Jobs at these establishments often offer
higher wages and have greater income potential from tips, but
they may also have stiffer employment requirements than other
establishments, such as prior table service experience or higher
Usually, bartenders must be at least 21 years of age, but employers
prefer to hire people who are 25 or older. Bartenders should be
familiar with State and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic
Most food and beverage serving and related workers pick up their
skills on the job by observing and working with more experienced
workers. Some full-service restaurants also provide new dining
room employees with some form of classroom-type training that
alternates with periods of actual on-the-job work experience.
These training programs communicate the operating philosophy of
the restaurant, help establish a personal rapport with other staff
and instill a desire to work as a team. They also provide an opportunity
to discuss customer service situations and the proper ways of
handling unpleasant circumstances or unruly patrons with new employees.
Additionally, managers, chefs and servers may meet before each
shift to discuss the menu and any new items or specials, review
ingredients for any potential food allergies, and talk about any
food safety, coordination between the kitchen and the dining room,
and any customer service issues from the previous day or shift.
Some employers, particularly those in fast-food restaurants,
use self-instruction or on-line programs with audiovisual presentations
and instructional booklets to teach new employees food preparation
and service skills. Some public and private vocational schools,
restaurant associations, and large restaurant chains provide classroom
training in a generalized food service curriculum. All employees
receive training on safe food handling procedures and sanitation
Some bartenders acquire their skills by attending a bartending
or vocational and technical school. These programs often include
instruction on State and local laws and regulations, cocktail
recipes, proper attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. Some of
these schools help their graduates find jobs. Although few employers
require any minimum level of educational attainment, some specialized
training is usually needed in food handling and legal issues surrounding
serving alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Employers are more likely
to hire and promote based on people skills and personal qualities
rather than education.
Due to the relatively small size of most food-serving establishments,
opportunities for promotion are limited. After gaining experience,
some dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers
advance to waiter, waitress, or bartender jobs. For waiters, waitresses,
and bartenders, advancement usually is limited to finding a job
in a busier or more expensive restaurant or bar where prospects
for tip earnings are better. Some bartenders, hosts and hostesses
and waiters and waitresses advance to supervisory jobs, such as
dining room supervisor, maitre d’hotel, assistant manager, or
restaurant general manager. A few bartenders open their own businesses.
In larger restaurant chains, food and beverage service workers
who excel at their work often are invited to enter the company’s
formal management training program. (For more information, see
the Handbook report on food service managers.)
Food and beverage serving and related workers held 6.8 million
jobs in 2004. The distribution of jobs among the various food
and beverage serving workers was as follows:
Waiters and waitresses
Combined food preparation and serving workers,
including fast food
Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession,
and coffee shop
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge,
and coffee shop
Food servers, nonrestaurant
All other food preparation and serving related
The overwhelming majority of jobs for food and beverage serving
and related workers were found in food services and drinking places,
such as restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Other jobs were found
primarily in traveler accommodation (hotels); amusement, gambling,
and recreation industries; educational services; grocery stores;
nursing care facilities; civic and social organizations; and hospitals.
Jobs are located throughout the country but are typically plentiful
in large cities and tourist areas. Vacation resorts offer seasonal
employment, and some workers alternate between summer and winter
resorts, instead of remaining in one area the entire year.
Job openings are expected to be abundant for food and beverage
serving and related workers. Overall employment of these workers
is expected to increase as fast as the average over the 2004-14
period as population, personal incomes, and employment expand.
While employment growth will create many new jobs, the overwhelming
majority of openings will arise from the need to replace the high
proportion of workers who leave the occupations each year. There
is substantial movement into and out of these occupations because
education and training requirements are minimal and the predominance
of part-time jobs are attractive to people seeking a short-term
source of income rather than a career. However, keen competition
is expected for bartender, waiter and waitress, and other food
and beverage service jobs in popular restaurants and fine dining
establishments, where potential earnings from tips are greatest.
Projected employment growth between 2004 and 2014 varies somewhat
by type of job; however, average employment growth is expected
for almost all food and beverage serving and related occupations.
Employment of combined food preparation and serving workers, which
includes fast-food workers, is expected to increase as fast as
the average in response to the continuing fast-paced lifestyle
of many Americans and the addition of healthier foods at many
fast-food restaurants. Average employment growth is expected for
waiters and waitresses and hosts and hostesses because increases
in the number of families and the more affluent, 55-and-older
population will result in more restaurants that offer table service
and more varied menus. Employment of bartenders, dining room attendants,
and dishwashers will grow more slowly than other food and beverage
serving and related workers because diners increasingly are eating
at more casual dining spots, such as coffee bars and sandwich
shops, rather than at the full-service restaurants and drinking
places that employ more of these workers.
Food and beverage serving and related workers derive their earnings
from a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. Earnings
vary greatly, depending on the type of job and establishment.
For example, fast-food workers and hosts and hostesses usually
do not receive tips, so their wage rates may be higher than those
of waiters and waitresses and bartenders in full-service restaurants,
who typically earn more from tips than from wages. In some restaurants,
workers contribute all or a portion of their tips to a tip pool,
which is distributed among qualifying workers. Tip pools allow
workers who don’t usually receive tips directly from customers,
such as dining room attendants, to feel a part of a team and to
share in the rewards of good service.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings (including tips) of waiters
and waitresses were $6.75. The middle 50 percent earned between
$6.04 and $8.34. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.60,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $11.27 an hour. For
most waiters and waitresses, higher earnings are primarily the
result of receiving more in tips rather than higher hourly wages.
Tips usually average between 10 and 20 percent of guests’ checks;
waiters and waitresses working in busy, expensive restaurants
earn the most.
Bartenders had median hourly earnings (including tips) of $7.42
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.34 and $9.26.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.72, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $12.47 an hour. Like waiters and waitresses,
bartenders employed in public bars may receive more than half
of their earnings as tips. Service bartenders often are paid higher
hourly wages to offset their lower tip earnings.
Median hourly earnings (including tips) of dining room and cafeteria
attendants and bartender helpers were $7.10 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $6.24 and $8.25. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $5.68, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $9.88 an hour. Most received over half of their earnings
as wages; the rest of their income was a share of the proceeds
from tip pools.
Median hourly earnings of hosts and hostesses were $7.52 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.48 and $8.63. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.77, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $10.49 an hour. Wages comprised the majority
of their earnings. In some cases, wages were supplemented by proceeds
from tip pools.
Median hourly earnings of combined food preparation and serving
workers, including fast food, were $7.06 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $6.18 and $8.25. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $5.65, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $9.85 an hour. Although some combined food preparation and
serving workers receive a part of their earnings as tips, fast-food
workers usually do not.
Median hourly earnings of counter attendants in cafeterias, food
concessions, and coffee shops (including tips) were $7.53 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.50 and $8.59 an
hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.80, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $10.38 an hour.
Median hourly earnings of dishwashers were $7.35 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $6.41 and $8.37. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $5.76, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $9.81 an hour.
Median hourly earnings of nonrestaurant food servers were $7.95
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.64 and $9.98.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.86, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $12.53 an hour.
Many beginning or inexperienced workers start earning the Federal
minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. However, a few States set minimum
wages higher than the Federal minimum. Also, various minimum wage
exceptions apply under specific circumstances to disabled workers,
full-time students, youth under age 20 in their first 90 days
of employment, tipped employees, and student-learners. Tipped
employees are those who customarily and regularly receive more
than $30 a month in tips. The employer may consider tips as part
of wages, but the employer must pay at least $2.13 an hour in
direct wages. Employers also are permitted to deduct from wages
the cost, or fair value, of any meals or lodging provided. Many
employers, however, provide free meals and furnish uniforms. Food
and beverage service workers who work full time often receive
typical benefits, while part-time workers usually do not.
In some large restaurants and hotels, food and beverage serving
and related workers belong to unions—principally the Hotel Employees
and Restaurant Employees International Union and the Service Employees
Other workers whose job involves serving customers and handling
money include flight attendants, gaming services workers, and
Sources of Additional Information
Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local
employers and local offices of State employment services agencies.
A guide to careers in restaurants plus a list of 2- and 4-year
colleges offering food service programs and related scholarship
information is available from: