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INDUSTRY OUTLOOK: Food and Beverage

What’s involved in this job?

The Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, with about 9.6 million wage and salary jobs in 2008, ranks among the Nation’s leading employers.  F&B tends to be small; about two-thirds of the establishments in the industry employed fewer than 20 workers. As a result, this industry often is considered attractive to individuals who want to own and run their own businesses.

Establishments in this industry, particularly fast-food establishments, are leading employers of teenagers—aged 16 through 19—providing first jobs for many new entrants into the labor force. In 2008, about 20 percent of all workers in F&B were teenagers, about 5 times the proportion in all industries. About 42 percent were under age 25, more than 3 times the proportion in all industries.

Goods and services. F&B may be the world’s most widespread and familiar industry. These establishments include all types of restaurants, from fast-food eateries to formal dining establishments. They also include cafeterias, caterers, bars, and food service contractors that operate the food services at places such as schools, sports arenas, and hospitals.

Hours. Many F&B establishments are open long hours. Staff typically is needed to work during evening, weekend, and holiday hours. Full-time employees, such as 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.

F&B services employs more part-time workers than other industries. 38% of workers in F&B worked part time in 2008, 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.

Work environment. F&B must comply with local fire, safety, and sanitation regulations, and state or local laws regarding smoking and alcohol consumption within the establishment. 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, dishwashers, and other kitchen staff 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 taking the proper safety 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.

Most F&B 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 staffs also need 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 2007, the rate of work-related injuries and illnesses for full-time workers in F&B was comparable to the average for all the private sector industries. Work hazards include the possibility of burns from hot equipment as well as sprained muscles and wrenched backs from heavy lifting and falls on slippery floors.

For recent developments,

Recent Developments:

Technology influences the F&B industry in many ways by 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 customers’ orders, 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 Web sites that include menus and online promotions, 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 requests, 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.

Some significant points:

  • F&B provide many young people with their first jobs; about 1 in 5 workers in this industry were 16 to 19 years old in 2008, about 5 times the proportion for all industries.
  • Nearly 3 in 5 workers in this industry worked as cooks, waiters and waitresses, and combined food-preparation and serving workers.
  • About 2 out of 5 employees work 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.

What training do you need?

The skills and experience required by workers in F&B 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.

Managerial occupations, though, require prior experience working in food service, which may be acquired through summer or part-time employment in the industry, or through formal internships or other work opportunities while pursuing a culinary or hospitality management degree.

Similarly, work in limited-service eating places generally requires less training and experience than work in full-service restaurants, particularly at higher end restaurants.


Wage and salary jobs in the F&B industry are expected to increase by 8% over the 2008–18 period, slightly less than that 11 percent growth rate projected for 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.

Job prospects. Job opportunities in the F&B industry should be very good, because the large number of young and part-time workers in the industry will generate substantial replacement needs. A large number of job openings will be created for new entrants as experienced workers find jobs in other, higher paying establishments, seek full-time opportunities outside the industry, or stop working. The greatest number of job openings will be in the two largest occupations—waiters and waitresses and combined food-preparation and serving workers—which also have high replacement needs.

Graduates of college hospitality programs, particularly those with good computer skills, should have especially good opportunities at higher end full service establishments. 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.

How much do food and beverage workers make?

Earnings usually are much lower than the average for all industries. In 2008, average weekly earnings for non-supervisory workers in this industry were $233, which is much lower than the average for all private sector workers of $608. Average weekly hours in all food service sectors also 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.

In resort towns, you’ll find many locals working multiple jobs — one of which is usually in the F&B industry due to the money making potential (via generous gratuities from both tourists and locals alike).

…more details from Bureau of Labor and Statistics

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