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Job Opportunities and Professional Careers in the Restaurant Industry

Aug 17, 2007
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. The fact is there's no better time to begin exploring your desires to start a restaurant career, especially with the growing popularity of the food industry.

Essentially the only requirement is that you have a passion for food and for providing a great experience to customers. Whether you want to explore your managerial talents by supervising restaurant operations or business development, or you'd like a more hands-on approach by stepping foot in the kitchen, there are a wide variety of positions within a restaurant career. And for every position, there is exciting coursework available to get you the important knowledge and experience you need to really become a desired commodity in the workplace. Combine your ability to direct a staff with a degree in management, and you'll be a valuable asset to any restaurant. Take your passion for food preparation and pair that with a degree in culinary arts and an internship at a reputable restaurant and your restaurant career will be off and running.

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, entrees, 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.

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, decor, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dining areas also may be well-designed, but can become crowded and noisy when busy. 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.

Kitchen staff 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.

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.
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