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The Diverse Food Service Career

Aug 17, 2007
The food service industry generally encompasses the places, institutions, and companies responsible for any meal eaten away from home. This industry includes restaurants, school and hospital cafeterias, catering operations, and many other formats. Major foodservice providers include Compass Group, Sodexho, Aramark, and the Crown Group.

The companies that supply foodservice operators are called foodservice distributors. Foodservice hard goods like ovens and refrigerators are often sold by large buying groups.

Some companies manufacture products in both consumer and foodservice versions. The consumer version usually comes in individual-sized packages with elaborate label design for retail sale. The foodservice version is packaged in a much larger industrial size and often lacks the colorful label designs of the consumer version.

Catering is the business of providing food service at a remote site. A mobile caterer serves food directly from a vehicle or cart designed for the purpose. Mobile catering is common at outdoor events (such as concerts), workplaces, and downtown business districts.

An event caterer serves food with wait staff at dining tables or sets up a self-serve buffet. The food may be prepared on site or shipped in but often some combination depending on the menu and facilities at the site. The event caterer staff is responsible not only for preparing the food but also setting up the dining area and waiting tables. This service is typically provided at banquets, conventions, and weddings. Any event where all the attendees are provided with food and drinks or sometimes only hors d'oeuvres is often called a catered event.

A catering company or specialist is expected to know not just food preparation, but how to make it attractive. A wedding requires working with the entire theme or color scheme of the wedding.

Much catering is sold on a per-person basis, where adding additional people is a flat price per person. Keeping the cost of the food and supplies below this is required to make a profit on the catering.

Industrial catering includes providing food for airline passengers, schools, prisons and other institutional settings. It can include contract management of client foodservice facilities. Airlines often have divisions or hire third parties to provide food for passengers. Food on airlines has dropped in frequency of flights it's offered on. Today a drink and snack item are common on shorter flights. Airline food is often seen as bad by the people who eat it.

A waiter is a male who "waits" on tables, often at a restaurant or a bar. A female who "waits" on tables is often called a waitress. The gender-neutral server and collective waitstaff can also be used.

Waiting tables is one of the most common occupations in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, as of May 2005, there are over 2.2 million persons employed as waiters and waitresses in the U.S.

Waiters' duties include preparing tables for a meal, taking customers' orders and serving drinks and food in a restaurant. Depending on the restaurant, other less common duties may be required, such as singing birthday songs to customers who are celebrating a birthday. A theme restaurant may even require waiters to dance (e.g. Joe's Crab Shack). There are now event caterers that outsource waiter/s/esess to events and specific functions.

"Silver Service" waiters are specially trained to serve at banquets or high-end restaurants. They follow specific rules of service and it is a skilled job. They generally wear black and white with a long, white apron (extending from the waist to ankle).

The head waiter or waitress is in charge of the staff of waiters and/or waitresses, and is also responsible for assigning seating. This person can also be referred to as the maitre d'hotel. Some restaurants employ busboys or busgirls to assist the waiters and/or waitresses.

In the United States and some other Western countries, it is customary to tip a waiter or waitress after a meal. In the U.S., waiters and waitresses, like other "tipped" employees, can be paid a lower minimum wage than other occupations. For example, waiters and waitresses in Georgia are generally paid around $2.13 an hour.

In contrast, waiters and waitresses in many East Asian countries refuse tips, which are sometimes even considered an insult. Many cultures in the region believe that leaving a tip implies that the waiter or waitress is not being paid enough by his or her employer.

A cocktail waitress is a type of server who specializes in bringing drinks to patrons of bars, casinos, comedy clubs, live music venues and other drinking establishments. Casinos traditionally dress their cocktail waitresses in fancy outfits with very short skirts, while less flashy establishments require waitstaff attire. A tip of $1/drink is customary.

A bartender serves beverages behind a bar in a bar, pub, tavern, or similar establishment. This usually includes alcoholic beverages of some kind, such as beer (both draft and bottled), wine, and/or cocktails, as well as soft drinks or other non-alcoholic beverages.

In addition to their core beverage-serving responsibility, bartenders also:
-take payment from customers (and sometimes the waiters or waitresses);
-maintain the liquor, garnishes, glassware, and other supplies or inventory for the bar (though some establishments have barbacks which help with these duties);
-serve food to customers sitting at the bar.
-In establishments where cocktails are served, bartenders are expected to be able to properly mix hundreds to thousands of different drinks.

A cook is a person employed to prepare food for consumption, whether in a restaurant or institution, for a caterer or in domestic service. A fully qualified, experienced cook is sometimes referred to as a chef (French 'chief'), although within the professional kitchen, the term chef is reserved only for the executive chef or chef de cuisine (French 'kitchen chief', i.e. kitchen master). A short order cook is a cook who prepares fast, easily-assembled meals to order, often working in a diner or cafe.

Cooks may learn their trade through apprenticeship, particularly in smaller establishments and staffed households, often starting as a kitchen boy, but that lowest rank, as the name indicates traditionally filled by minors, doesn't have to lead to a cook's career. The top restaurants nowadays hire from the graduates of professional cooking courses at culinary schools; these almost always involve some form of apprenticeship as well. In general, most restaurants have a hierarchy of cooking staff.
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