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Whether they work in small, informal diners or large, elegant restaurants, all food and beverage service workers deal with customers. The quality of service they deliver determines in part whether or not the patron will return.
Waiters and waitresses take customers' orders, serve food and beverages, prepare itemized checks, and sometimes accept payments. The manner in which they perform their tasks varies considerably, depending on the establishment where they work. In coffee shops, they are expected to provide fast and efficient, yet courteous, service. In fine restaurants, where gourmet meals are accompanied by attentive formal service, waiters and waitresses serve the meal at a more leisurely pace and offer more personal service to patrons. For example, they may recommend a certain kind of wine as a complement to a particular entree, explain how various items on the menu are prepared, or prepare some salads and other special dishes at table side.
Depending on the type of restaurant, waiters and waitresses may perform additional duties generally associated with other food and beverage service occupations. These tasks may include escorting guests to tables, serving customers seated at counters, setting up and clearing tables, or cashiering. However, larger or more formal restaurants frequently hire staff to perform these duties, allowing their waiters and waitresses to concentrate on customer service.
Bartenders fill the drink orders that waiters and waitresses take from customers seated in the restaurant or lounge, as well as orders from customers seated at the bar. They prepare standard mixed drinks and, occasionally, are asked to mix drinks to suit a customer's taste. Most bartenders know dozens of drink recipes and are able to mix drinks accurately, quickly, and without waste, even during the busiest periods. Besides mixing and serving drinks, bartenders collect payment, operate the cash register, clean up after customers have left, and on occasion serve food items to customers seated at the bar.
Bartenders who work at service bars have little contact with customers. They work at small bars in restaurants, hotels, and clubs where drinks are served only by waiters and waitresses. However, the majority who work in eating and drinking establishments directly serve and socialize with patrons. Some establishments, especially larger ones, use automatic equipment to mix drinks of varying complexity at the push of a button. However, bartenders still must be efficient and knowledgeable in case the equipment malfunctions or a customer requests a drink not handled by the equipment. Most customers frequent drinking establishments for the friendly atmosphere and would rather have their drinks prepared by a bartender than a lifeless machine.
Bartenders usually are responsible for ordering and maintaining an inventory of liquor, mixes, and other bar supplies. They form attractive displays out of the bottles and glassware, and wash the glassware and utensils after each use.
Hosts and hostesses try to evoke a good impression of the restaurant by warmly welcoming guests. They courteously direct patrons to where they may leave coats and other personal items, and indicate where they may wait until their table is ready. Hosts and hostesses assign guests to tables suitable for the size of their group, escort them to their seats, and provide menus.
Hosts and hostesses are restaurants' personal representatives to patrons. They try to insure that the service is prompt and courteous and that the meal meets expectations. Hosts and hostesses schedule dining reservations, arrange parties, and organize any special services that are required. In some restaurants, they also act as cashiers.
Dining room attendants and bartender helpers assist waiters, waitresses, and bartenders by keeping the serving area stocked with supplies, cleaning tables, and removing dirty dishes to the kitchen. They replenish the supply of clean linens, dishes, silverware, and glasses in the restaurant dining room, and keep the bar stocked with glasses, liquor, ice, and drink garnishes. Bartender helpers also keep the bar equipment clean and wash glasses. Dining room attendants set tables with clean tablecloths, napkins, silverware, glasses, and dishes and serve ice water, rolls, and butter to patrons. At the conclusion of the meal, they remove dirty dishes and soiled linens from the tables. Cafeteria attendants stock serving tables with food, trays, dishes, and silverware and may carry trays to dining tables for patrons.
Counter attendants take orders and serve food at counters. In cafeterias, they serve food displayed on counters and steam tables as requested by patrons, carve meat, dish out vegetables, ladle sauces and soups, and fill beverages. In lunchrooms and coffee shops, counter attendants take orders from customers seated at the counter, transmit the orders to the kitchen, and pick up and serve the food when it is ready. They also fill cups with coffee, soda, and other beverages and prepare fountain specialties such as milkshakes and ice cream sundaes. They prepare some short-order items, such as sandwiches and salads, and wrap or place orders in containers for carry out. Counter attendants also clean counters, write up itemized checks, and accept payment.
Fast-food workers take orders from customers standing at counters or drive-through windows at fast-food restaurants. They get the ordered beverage and food items, serve them to the customer, and accept payment. Many fast-food workers also cook and package french fries, make coffee, and fill beverage cups using a drink-dispensing machine.
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.
Although some food and beverage service workers work 40 hours or more a week, the majority are employed part time-a larger proportion than in almost any other occupation. The majority of those working part-time schedules do so on a voluntary basis. The wide range in dining hours creates work opportunities attractive to homemakers, students, and other individuals seeking supplemental income. Many food and beverage service workers are expected to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Some work split shifts-that is, they work for several hours during the middle of the day, take a few hours off in the afternoon, and then return to their jobs for the evening hours.
Food and beverage service workers held more than 4.5 million jobs in 1994. Waiters and waitresses held over 1.8 million of these jobs; counter attendants and fast-food workers, more than 1.6 million; dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers, 416,000; bartenders, 373,000; and hosts and hostesses, 248,000.
Restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other retail eating and drinking places employed two-thirds of all food and beverage service workers. Of the remainder, nearly half worked in hotels and other lodging places, and others in bowling alleys, casinos, and country clubs and other membership organizations.
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.
There are no specific educational requirements for food and beverage service jobs. Although many employers prefer to hire high school graduates for waiter and waitress, bartender, and host and hostess positions, completion of high school is generally not required for fast-food workers, counter attendants, 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 students.
Most employers place an emphasis on personal qualities. Food and beverage service workers are in close contact with the public, so they should be well spoken and have a neat and clean appearance. They should enjoy dealing with all kinds of people, possess a pleasant disposition and a healthy sense of humor. State laws often require that food and beverage service workers obtain health certificates showing that they are free of communicable diseases.
Waiters and waitresses need a good memory to avoid confusing customers' orders and to recall the faces, names, and preferences of frequent patrons. They should be good at arithmetic so they can total bills without the assistance of a calculator or cash register. In restaurants specializing in foreign foods, knowledge of a foreign language is helpful. Prior experience waiting on tables is preferred by restaurants and hotels which have rigid table service standards. Jobs at these establishments often have higher earnings, but may also have higher educational requirements than less formal establishments.
Generally, bartenders must be at least 21 years of age, and employers prefer to hire people who are 25 or older. They should be familiar with State and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Most food and beverage service workers pick up their skills on the job by observing and working with more experienced workers. Some employers, particularly some fast-food restaurants, use self-instruction programs to teach new employees food preparation and service skills through audiovisual presentations and instructional booklets. Some public and private vocational schools, restaurant associations, and large restaurant chains also provide classroom training in a generalized food service curriculum.
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, attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. Some of these schools help their graduates find jobs.
Due to the relatively small size of most food-serving establishments, opportunities for promotion are limited. After gaining some experience, some dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers are able to advance to waiter, waitress, or bartender jobs. For waiters, waitresses, and bartenders, advancement usually is limited to finding a job in a larger restaurant or bar where prospects for tip earnings are better. Some bartenders open their own businesses. Some hosts and hostesses and waiters and waitresses advance to supervisory jobs, such as maitre d'hotel, dining room supervisor, or restaurant manager. In larger restaurant chains, food and beverage service workers who excel at their work are often invited to enter the company's formal management training program. (For more information, see the statement on restaurant and food service managers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Job openings for food and beverage service workers are expected to be abundant through the year 2005. Most openings will arise from the need to replace the high proportion of workers who leave this very large occupation each year. There is substantial movement into and out of the occupation because the education and training requirements are minimal, and the predominance of part-time jobs is attractive to people seeking a short-term source of income rather than a career. Many of these workers simply move to other occupations, while others stop working to assume household responsibilities or to attend school.
Employment of food and beverage service occupations is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Since a significant proportion of food and beverage sales by eating and drinking places is associated with the overall level of economic activity, sales and employment will increase with the growth of the economy. Growth in demand also will stem from population growth, rising personal incomes, and increased leisure time. Since it is common for both husband and wife to be in the work force, families may increasingly find dining out a convenience.
Growth of the various types of food and beverage service jobs is expected to vary greatly. As the composition of the Nation's population becomes older, diners are expected to patronize full-service restaurants increasingly, spurring growth in demand for waiters and waitresses and hosts and hostesses. However, little change in the employment of dining room attendants is expected as waiters and waitresses increasingly assume their duties. The employment of bartenders is expected to decline as drinking of alcoholic beverages outside the home particularly cocktailscontinues to drop.
Workers under the age of 25 have traditionally filled a significant proportion of food and beverage service jobs, particularly in fast-food restaurants. The pool of these young workers in the labor force is expected to shrink through the 1990's, but begin to grow after the year 2000. To attract and retain workers, many employers will be forced to offer higher wages, better benefits, more training, and increased opportunities for advancement and full-time employment.
Because potential earnings are greatest in popular restaurants and fine dining establishments, keen competition is expected for the limited number of jobs in these restaurants.
Food and beverage service workers derive their earnings from a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. Their wages and the amount of tips they receive varies greatly, depending on the type of job and establishment. For example, fast-food workers and hosts and hostesses generally do not receive tips, so their wage rates may be higher than those of waiters and waitresses, who may earn more from tips than from wages. In some restaurants, waiters and waitresses contribute a portion of their tips to a tip pool, which is distributed among many of the establishment's other food and beverage service workers and kitchen staff. Tip pools allow workers who normally do not receive tips, such as dining room attendants, to share in the rewards for a well served meal.
In 1994, median weekly earnings (including tips) of full-time waiters and waitresses were about $256. The middle 50 percent earned between $188 and $338; the top 10 percent earned at least $430 a week. For most waiters and waitresses, higher earnings are primarily the result of receiving more in tips rather than higher hourly wages. Tips generally average between 10 and 20 percent of guests' checks, so waiters and waitresses working in busy, expensive restaurants earn the most.
Full-time bartenders had median weekly earnings (including tips) of about $299 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned from $226 and $395; the top 10 percent earned at least $514 a week. Like waiters and waitresses, bartenders employed in public bars may receive more than half of their earnings as tips. Service bartenders are often paid higher hourly wages to offset their lower tip earnings.
Median weekly earnings (including tips) of full-time dining room attendants and bartender helpers were about $228 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $182 and $304; the top 10 percent earned over $446 a week. Most received over half of their earnings as wages; the rest was their share of the proceeds from tip pools.
Full-time counter attendants and fast-food workers had median weekly earnings (including any tips) of about $204 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $160 and $266, while the highest 10 percent earned over $324 a week. Although some counter attendants receive part of their earnings as tips, fast- food workers generally do not.
In establishments covered by Federal law, workers beginning at the minimum wage earn $4.25 an hour. Federal law permits employers to credit an employee's tip earnings toward the minimum hourly wage, up to an amount equaling 45 percent of the minimum, and some employers exercise this right. Employers are also permitted to deduct from wages the cost, or fair value, of any meals or lodging provided. However, many employers provide free meals and furnish uniforms. Food and beverage service workers who work full time often receive paid vacation and sick leave and health insurance, while part-time workers generally do not.
In some large restaurants and hotels, food and beverage service workers belong to unions. The principal unions are the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and the Service Employees International Union.
Other workers whose jobs involve serving customers and helping them feel at ease and enjoy themselves include flight attendants , butlers, and tour busdrivers.
Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State employment service.
A guide to careers in restaurants, a list of 2- and 4-year colleges that have food service programs, and information on scholarships to those programs is available from:
The Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association, 250 South Wacker Dr., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60606.
For general information on hospitality careers, write to:
Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, 1200 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036- 3097.
For general career information and a directory of private career colleges and schools that offer training for bartender and other food and beverage service jobs, write to:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
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