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A Variety of Rewarding Careers in the Food Service Industry

Aug 17, 2007
Employment growth in the food service industry will be spurred by increases in population, household income, and leisure time that will allow people to more often dine out and take vacations. In addition, the large number of two-income households will lead more families to opt for the convenience of dining out.

Chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods - from soups, snacks, and salads to entrees, side dishes, and desserts - in a variety of restaurants and other food services establishments. Chefs and cooks create recipes and prepare meals, while food preparation workers peel and cut vegetables, trim meat, prepare poultry, and perform other duties such as keeping work areas clean and monitoring temperatures of ovens and stovetops.

Chefs and head cooks also are responsible for directing the work of other kitchen workers, estimating food requirements, and ordering food supplies.

Executive chefs and head cooks coordinate the work of the kitchen staff and direct the preparation of meals. Chefs tend to be more highly skilled and better trained than cooks.

The specific responsibilities of most cooks are determined by a number of factors, including the type of restaurant in which they work.

Most fast-food or short-order cooks and food preparation workers require little education or training; most skills are learned on the job. Training generally starts with basic sanitation and workplace safety subjects and continues with instruction on food handling, preparation, and cooking procedures.

Large corporations in the food services and hospitality industries also offer paid internships and summer jobs to those just starting out in the field. Internships provide valuable experience and can lead to placement in more formal chef training programs.

Some chefs and cooks may start their training in high school or post-high school vocational programs. Others may receive formal training through independent cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, or 2 or 4 year college degree programs in hospitality or culinary arts. In addition, some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training and job-placement programs for chefs and cooks. People who have had courses in commercial food preparation may start in a cook or chef job without spending a lot of time in lower-skilled kitchen jobs.

Important characteristics for chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers include working well as part of a team, having a keen sense of taste and smell, and working efficiently to turn out meals rapidly. Personal cleanliness is essential because most States require health certificates indicating that workers are free from communicable diseases. Knowledge of a foreign language can be an asset because it may improve communication with other restaurant staff, vendors, and the restaurant's clientele.

Workers who perform tasks similar to those of chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers include food processing occupations, such as butchers and meat cutters, and bakers. Others who work closely with these workers include food service managers and food and beverage serving and related workers.

Waiters and waitresses, the largest group of these workers, take customers' orders, serve food and beverages, prepare itemized checks, and sometimes accept payment. 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.

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. 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. Bartenders should be friendly and enjoy talking with customers.

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.

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.

Counter attendants take orders and serve food in cafeterias, coffee shops, and carryout eateries.

Food processing occupations include many different types of workers who process raw food products into the finished goods sold by grocers or wholesalers, restaurants, or institutional food services.

Butchers as well as meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers are employed at different stages in the process by which animal carcasses are converted into manageable pieces of meat, known as boxed meat, that are suitable for sale to wholesalers and retailers.

In animal slaughtering and processing plants, slaughterers and meatpackers slaughter cattle, hogs, goats, and sheep and cut the carcasses into large wholesale cuts, such as rounds, loins, ribs, and chucks, to facilitate the handling, distribution, and marketing of meat.

Bakers mix and bake ingredients in accordance with recipes to produce varying quantities of breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

Other food processing workers - such as food batchmakers; food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders; and food cooking machine operators and tenders - typically work in production areas that are specially designed for food preservation or processing.

With the extent of growth in the industry of food service, managers are going to be in high demand. Management positions in the food service industry are diverse. Succeeding in the industry takes drive, ambition, and the desire to please people as the food service industry is about customer service. It also requires a lot of energy, an outgoing personality, and the ability to be comfortable working with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. You also need to be a risk taker and have the ability to solve problems quickly.

The college degree gives the foundation on which to build the management career. And, if your course work included financial and management classes it's even better. Your degree will enable you to start as an assistant manager instead of an hourly employee.

Employers will be looking for evidence that you are interested in the field and understand its demands; experience is your evidence. Ideally, you've served an internship or apprenticeship for a food service employer, but summer and part-time jobs as a waiter, hostess, or cafeteria worker will also show employers that you understand the industry.
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