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Food service managers

Significant Points
* Food services and drinking places provided many young people with their first jobs—in 2004, more than 21 percent of workers in these establishments were aged 16 to 19, about 5 times the proportion for all industries.
* Cooks, waiters and waitresses, and combined food preparation and serving workers comprised more than half of industry employment.
* About 2 out of 5 employees worked part time, more than twice the proportion for all industries.
* Job opportunities will be plentiful because large numbers of young and part-time workers will leave their jobs in the industry, creating substantial replacement needs.

Nature of the Work
Food services and drinking places may be the world’s most widespread and familiar industry. These establishments include all types of restaurants, from casual fast-food eateries to formal, elegant dining establishments. The food services and drinking places industry comprises about 500,000 places of employment in large cities, small towns, and rural areas across the United States.

As shown in table 1, about 45 percent of establishments in this industry are limited-service eating places, such as fast-food restaurants, cafeterias, and snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars, that primarily serve patrons who order or select items and pay before eating. Full-service restaurants account for about 39 percent of establishments and cater to patrons who order, are served, and consume their food while seated, and then pay after eating. Drinking places (alcoholic beverages)—bars, pubs, nightclubs, and taverns—primarily prepare and serve alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. Drinking places comprise about 11 percent of all establishments in this industry. Special food services, such as food service contractors, caterers, and mobile food service vendors, account for less than 6 percent of establishments in the industry. The most common type of a limited-service eating place is a franchised operation of a nationwide restaurant chain that sells fast food. Features that characterize these restaurants include a limited menu, the absence of waiters and waitresses, and emphasis on limited service. Menu selections usually offer limited variety and are prepared by workers with minimal cooking skills. Food typically is served in disposable, take-out containers that retain the food’s warmth, allowing restaurants to prepare orders in advance of customers’ requests. A growing number of fast-food restaurants provide drive-through and walk-up services.

Cafeterias are another type of limited-service eating place and usually offer a somewhat limited selection that varies daily. Cafeterias also may provide separate serving stations for salads or short-order grill items, such as grilled sandwiches or hamburgers. Patrons select from food and drink items on display in a continuous cafeteria line. Cafeteria selections may include foods that require more complicated preparations and greater culinary skills than are required in fast-food restaurants. Selections usually are prepared ahead in large quantities and seldom are cooked to the customer’s order.

Limited-service snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars carry and sell a combination of snacks, nonalcoholic beverages, and other related products but generally promote and sell a unique snack or beverage for consumption on or near the premises. For example, some prepare and serve specialty snacks including ice cream, frozen yogurt, cookies, or popcorn. Others serve primarily coffee, juices, or soda.

Full-service restaurants offer more menu categories, including appetizers, entrées, salads, side dishes, desserts, and beverages, and varied choices within each category. Chefs and cooks prepare items to order which may run from grilling a simple hamburger to composing a more complex and sophisticated menu item. Waiters and waitresses offer table service in comfortable surroundings.

Cost-conscious and time-strapped patrons increasingly eat at midscale or family-type restaurants rather than at more elegant dining establishments. National chains are a growing segment of full-service restaurants. These restaurants usually offer efficient table service, well-priced familiar menu items prepared by moderately skilled kitchen workers, and a substantially nicer physical setting than limited service establishments. By contrast, customers at upscale dining places tend to seek a more relaxed and elegant atmosphere with skillfully prepared cuisine and leisurely, but professional service.

Many popular full-service restaurants remain independently owned and locally operated. Independent full-service restaurants generally focus on providing a one-of-a-kind dining experience and distinctive design, décor, and atmosphere. Food and service remain the primary focus of the restaurant’s offerings, but physical setting and ambience are important components of that experience. They help establish a restaurant’s reputation and build a steady clientele.

Some drinking places also offer patrons limited dining services in addition to providing alcoholic beverages. In some States, they also sell packaged alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises. Establishments selling alcoholic beverages are closely regulated by State and local alcoholic beverage control authorities.

Finally, the food services and drinking places industry covers a variety of special food services establishments, including food service contractors, concession stands at sporting events, catering firms, and mobile food services, such as ice cream trucks and other street vendors who sell food.

Technology influences the food services and drinking places industry in many ways, enhancing efficiency and productivity. Many restaurants use computers to track orders, inventory, and patron seating. Point-of-service (POS) systems allow servers to key in a customer’s order, either tableside using a hand-held device or from a computer terminal in the dining room, and send the order to the kitchen instantaneously so preparation can begin. The same system totals and prints checks, functions as a cash register, connects to credit card authorizers, and tracks sales. Many managers use inventory-tracking software to compare the record of sales from the POS with a record of present inventory to minimize food costs and spoilage. Some establishments enter an inventory of standard ingredients and suppliers into their POS system. When supplies of particular ingredients run low, additional inventory can be ordered directly from the supplier using this preprogrammed information. Computers also allow restaurant and food service managers to more efficiently keep track of employee schedules and pay.

Food service managers use the Internet to track industry news, find recipes, conduct market research, purchase supplies or equipment, recruit employees, and train staff. Internet access also makes service to customers more efficient. Many restaurants maintain websites that include menus and online promotions and provide information about the restaurant’s location and offer the option to make a reservation. Wireless communication headsets are now being used by some managers, hosts and hostesses, and chefs. Headsets allow a means of hands-free communications with other staff so that they can prevent order backups in the kitchen, better serve patrons in the dining room, or more easily accommodate special requirements, such as large groups, diners with special dietary needs, or disability accessible seating requirements. Other wireless technology systems allow managers to monitor orders placed through individual terminals or by particular employees, instantly check inventories, and ensure timely preparation of customers’ orders.

Working Conditions
Many food services and drinking places establishments in this industry are open long hours. Staff typically is needed to work during evening, weekend, and holiday hours. Full-time employees, often head or executive chefs and food service managers , typically work longer hours—12-hour days are common—and also may be on call to work at other times when needed. Part-time employees, usually waiters and waitresses, dining room attendants, hosts and hostesses, and fast-food employees, typically work shorter days (4-6 hours per day) or fewer days per week than most full-time employees.

Food services and drinking places employ more part time workers than other industries. About 2 out of 5 workers in food services and drinking places worked part time in 2004, more than twice the proportion for all industries. This allows some employees flexibility in setting their work hours, affording them a greater opportunity to tailor work schedules to personal or family needs. Some employees may rotate work on some shifts to ensure proper coverage at unpopular work times or to fully staff restaurants during peak demand times.

Food services and drinking places must comply with local fire, safety, and sanitation regulations. They also must provide appropriate public accommodations and ensure that employees use safe food handling measures. These practices require establishments to maintain supplies of chemicals, detergents, and other materials that may be harmful if not used properly.

Typical establishments have well-designed kitchens with state-of-the-art cooking and refrigeration equipment and proper electrical, lighting and ventilation systems to keep everything functioning. However, kitchens usually are noisy, and may be very hot near stoves, grills, ovens, or steam tables. Chefs, cooks, food preparation workers, and other kitchen staff, such as dishwashers, may suffer minor cuts or burns, be subject to scalding or steaming liquids, and spend most of their time standing in a relatively confined area. Chefs and cooks are under extreme pressure to work quickly to stay on top of orders in a busy restaurant. The fast pace requires employees to be alert and quick-thinking, but also may result in muscle strains from trying to move heavy pots or force pressurized containers open without safely taking the proper precautions.

Dining areas also may be well-designed, but can become crowded and noisy when busy. Servers, attendants, and other dining-room staff, such as bartenders and hosts or hostesses, need to protect against falls, spills, or burns while serving diners and keeping service areas stocked. Also, dining-room staff must be aware of stairs, raised platforms or other obstacles when directing patrons through narrow areas or to distant seating areas.

Most food services and drinking places workers spend most of their time on their feet—preparing meals, serving diners, or transporting dishes and supplies throughout the establishment. Upper body strength often is needed to lift heavy items, such as trays of dishes, platters of food, or cooking pots. Work during peak dining hours can be very hectic and stressful.

Employees who have direct contact with customers, such as waiters and waitresses or hosts and hostesses, should have a neat appearance and maintain a professional and pleasant manner. Professional hospitality is required from the moment guests enter the restaurant until the time they leave. Sustaining a proper demeanor during busy times or over the course of a long shift may be difficult.

Kitchen staff also needs to be able to work as a team and to communicate with each other. Timing is critical to preparing more complex dishes. Coordinating orders to ensure that an entire table’s meals are ready at the same time is essential, particularly in a large restaurant during busy dining periods.

In 2003, the rate of work-related injuries and illnesses was 4.6 per 100 full-time workers in eating and drinking places, slightly less than the average of 5.0 for the private sector. Work hazards include the possibility of burns from hot equipment, sprained muscles, and wrenched backs from heavy lifting and falls on slippery floors.


The skills and experience required by workers in food services and drinking places differ by occupation and type of establishment. Many entry-level positions, such as waiters and waitresses or food preparation workers, require little or no formal education or previous training. Similarly, work in limited-service eating places generally requires less experience than work in full-service restaurants.

Many fast-food worker or server jobs are held by young or part-time workers. For many youths, this is their first job; for others, part-time schedules allow more flexible working arrangements. On-the-job training, typically under the close supervision of an experienced employee or manager, often lasts a few weeks or less. Some large chain operations require formal training sessions, many using on-line or video training programs, for new employees.

Formal training and prior food-service experience for managers, however, is more common. Training may take the form of industry-sponsored seminars; short-term, subject-specific certificate programs; or associate or bachelor’s degree programs in culinary arts or hospitality, hotel, or restaurant management. Seminars often address a variety of complex issues faced by food service managers and suggest ways to resolve problems as they occur and to improve the firm’s profitability, worker morale, and customer service. Some training topics cover proper food handling and safety issues, or methods for recruiting and motivating quality employees. As more restaurants use computers to keep track of sales and inventory, computer training is becoming increasingly integrated into management training programs.

Larger establishments or regional offices of nationwide chain or franchise operations increasingly use video and satellite TV training programs or on-line employee-development software to educate newly hired staff. This type of corporate training generally covers the restaurant’s history, menu, organizational philosophy, and daily operational standards. Nationwide chains often operate their own schools for prospective assistant managers so that they can attend training seminars before acquiring additional responsibilities. Eventually, successful assistant managers may advance to general manager of one of the chain’s establishments, to a top management position in another large chain operation, or to a management position in an independent restaurant. Assistant managers in smaller, independent restaurants may learn their duties on the job, while assistant mangers in most chain-affiliated establishments receive training through more formal programs.

Completion of postsecondary training is increasingly important for advancement in the food services and drinking places industry. Whether it is in the form of a bachelor’s degree or as specialized training in culinary arts or hospitality management, completion of such programs demonstrates both the maturity and motivation required for work in a hectic fast-paced industry. Appropriate training often enables graduates to start as assistant managers. Management programs may last from 18 months, for tailored certificate or associate degree programs, to 4 years, for more comprehensive bachelor’s degree programs. A growing number of master’s degree programs in hospitality management provide training for corporate-level management involving site selection and feasibility assessments in addition to training for restaurant-level customer service responsibilities. Courses are available through community and junior colleges, trade and vocational schools, 4-year colleges and universities, hotel or restaurant associations, and trade unions. The Armed Forces are another source of training and experience in food service work.

Training options for chefs and other kitchen staff are more varied. Some start out in kitchens as food preparation workers and gradually work their way up to cook and chef positions with experience and improved skills. Or they may start in smaller restaurants or in less demanding work stations, such as the cold station, preparing comparatively simple salads or appetizers, then move up to stations where more complicated dishes are made and more sophisticated cooking techniques are used. Working under an experienced chef and gaining progressively more responsible and difficult assignments is one way many cooks advance.

Formal culinary training for chefs and cooks is available through a wide variety of sources—independent cooking schools or academies, community and junior colleges, trade and vocational schools, and 4-year colleges and universities. Many trade associations and unions also certify cooking programs conducted at selected schools or sponsor Federally approved apprenticeship programs that combine formal classroom instruction with on-the-job experience in a working kitchen. Many formal training programs offer job placement opportunities that help recent graduates find work in kitchens, generally at the sous-chef level or higher. Many cooks without the formal training gain experience through structured internships, working under the direction of experienced chefs. Some advance to more responsible cooking positions by moving up the line in the same restaurant or by moving from one kitchen to another.

Most culinary programs now offer more business courses and computer training to better prepare chefs to assume greater leadership and managerial roles in the industry and to manage large, complex food service operations. Culinary training also has adapted to reflect changing food trends and eating habits. For example, chefs and cooks must know a wide variety of food preparation techniques and cooking styles. They also must know how to prepare foods to accommodate various dietary restrictions to satisfy health-conscious eating styles, and to meet the needs of an increasingly international clientele. Chefs and cooks also need to be creative and know how to inspire other kitchen staff to develop new dishes and create inventive recipes.

Promotion opportunities in food services and drinking places vary by occupation and the size of individual establishments. As in other industries, larger establishments and organizations usually offer better advancement opportunities. As beginners gain experience and basic skills, those who choose to pursue careers in food services and drinking places can transfer to other jobs that require greater skill and offer higher earnings. Many workers earn progressively higher incomes as they gain experience or switch to jobs in establishments offering higher pay. For example, waiters and waitresses may transfer to jobs in more expensive or busier restaurants where larger tips are more likely.

Many food service workers start as untrained food preparation workers. As they pick up kitchen skills, and demonstrate greater responsibility, they may advance to cook positions preparing routine or simple dishes. Advancement opportunities for food preparation workers, as well as for cafeteria and institution cooks and short-order cooks, generally require that they move into positions in full-service restaurants. In full-service restaurants, kitchen workers at all levels may acquire the appropriate experience and expand their skills, which may lead to work as a line cook. Line cooks also develop and acquire new skills, moving to more demanding stations and eventually to more challenging chef positions. As chefs improve their culinary skills, the opportunities for professional recognition and higher earnings increase. Chefs may advance to executive chef positions and oversee several kitchens within a food service operation, open their own restaurants as chef-proprietors, or move into training positions as teachers or culinary educators. Other chefs may go into sales or demonstrator careers, testing recipes, products, or equipment for sale to chefs and restaurateurs.

Many managers of food services and drinking places obtain their positions through hard work and years of restaurant experience. Dining room workers, such as hosts and hostesses or waiters and waitresses, often are promoted to maitre d' or into managerial jobs. Many managers of fast-food restaurants advanced from the ranks of hourly workers. Managers with access to the necessary capital may even open their own franchises or independent restaurants.

Other Qualifications


Job Outlook
Job opportunities in food services and drinking places should be plentiful, because the large number of young and part-time workers in the industry will generate substantial replacement needs. As experienced workers find jobs in other, higher-paying establishments, seek full-time opportunities outside the industry, or stop working, a large number of job openings will be created for new entrants. Industry expansion also will create many new jobs as diners continue to seek the convenience of prepared meals. Wage and salary jobs in food services and drinking places are expected to increase by 16 percent over the 2004-14 period, compared to 14-percent growth projected for wage and salary employment in all industries combined. Numerous job opportunities will be available for people with limited job skills, first-time job seekers, senior citizens, and those seeking part-time or alternative work schedules.

Increases in population, dual-income families, and dining sophistication will contribute to job growth. Consumer demand for convenience and ready-to-heat meal options also will offer cooks and other food preparation workers a wider variety of employment settings in which to work. Moderately-priced restaurants that offer table service will afford increasing job opportunities as these businesses expand to accommodate the growing demand of an older and more mobile population and cater to families with young children. Fine dining establishments, which appeal more to affluent, often older, customers, also should grow as the 45-and-older population increases rapidly. The numbers of limited-service and fast-food restaurants that appeal to younger diners should increase more slowly than in the past. As schools, hospitals, and company cafeterias contract out institutional food services, jobs should shift to firms specializing in these services. Some of the increased demand for food services will be met through more supermarket food service options, self-service facilities such as salad bars, untended meal stations, and automated beverage stations.

Occupational projections reflect different rates of growth among the various segments of the food services and drinking places industry (table 3). Employment in occupations concentrated in full-service restaurants—including skilled chefs and head cooks, waiters and waitresses, and hosts and hostesses—is expected to grow slightly faster than overall employment in the food services and drinking places industry. On the other hand, employment in many occupations concentrated in limited-service and fast-food restaurants—including fast-food and short-order cooks—is expected to increase more slowly than overall employment in the food services and drinking places industry. Duties of cooks in fast-food restaurants are limited; faster growth is expected for combined food preparation and serving workers who both prepare and serve items in fast-food restaurants.

Those who qualify—either through experience or formal culinary training—for skilled head cook and chef positions should be in demand, because of the need for skilled cooks to work in the growing number of new outlets among the fast-casual chains and independent fine-dining restaurants. The greatest number of job openings will be in the largest occupations—waiters and waitresses and combined food preparation and serving workers—which also have high replacement needs.

Employment of salaried managers is projected to increase faster than the average for the industry as a result of sustained growth in chain and franchised establishments. Graduates of college hospitality programs, particularly those with good computer skills, should have especially good opportunities. The growing dominance of chain-affiliated food services and drinking places also should enhance opportunities for advancement from food service manager positions into general manager and corporate administrative jobs. Employment of self-employed managers in independent food services and drinking places is expected to grow more slowly.

Earnings in food services and drinking places usually are much lower than the average for all industries (table 4). In 2004, average weekly earnings were highest in special food services ($256) and lowest in drinking places, alcoholic beverages ($175). Average weekly hours in all food service industries were lower than the average for private industry. Low earnings are supplemented for many workers by tips from customers. Waiters, waitresses, and bartenders, for example, often derive the majority of their earnings from tips, which depend on menu prices and the volume of customers served. In some establishments, workers who receive tips share a portion of their gratuities with other workers in the dining room and kitchen.

Earnings vary by occupation, geographic area, and by type and size of establishment. Usually skilled workers, such as chefs, have the highest wages, and workers who are dependent upon tips to supplement earnings have the lowest. Many workers in the industry earn the Federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, or less if tips are included as a substantial part of earnings. A number of employers provide free or discounted meals and uniforms to employees. Earnings in the largest occupations employed in food services and drinking places appear in table 5.

Unionization is not widespread in the food services and drinking places industry. In 2004, less than 2 percent of all employees were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with about 14 percent for all industries.

Related Occupations

Sources of Additional Information
For additional information about careers and training in the food services and drinking places industry, contact:

* National Restaurant Association, 1200 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet:

* The American Culinary Federation, 180 Center Place Way, St. Augustine, FL 32095. Internet:

For a list of educational programs in the food services and drinking industry, contact:

* The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, 2613 North Parham Rd., 2nd Floor, Richmond, VA 23294. Internet:

Information on vocational education courses for food preparation and service careers may be obtained from your State or local director of vocational education or superintendent of schools.

Information on these and other occupations found in food services and drinking places appears in the 2006-07 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook:

* Cashiers

* Chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers

* Food and beverage serving and related workers

* food service managers

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