Skip to Main Content

Restaurants and Food Services


The restaurant and food service industry is an $899 billion industry in the United States. Restaurants and other food-service providers are so widespread that half of all adults have worked in food service in one way or another at some point in their lives. The food service industry encompasses any establishment that serves food to people outside their home. This includes restaurants, carryout operations, cafeterias, university dining halls, catering and vending companies, hotels and inns, and rehab and retirement centers.

This industry is divided into two groups: Those that prepare and serve food and those that produce and distribute food, equipment, and services needed by food providers. The most common example of the first group is restaurants. Restaurants employ front of the house people and back of the house people. The former includes bartenders, wait staff, hosts, and busboys. The latter includes chefs, cooks, managers, and dishwashers. Fast food restaurants limit their staff to food preparation people, managers, and cashiers. The trend of food trucks adds a mobile component to food service and requires just a few people to drive the truck, cook the food, and serve it through a window.

Examples of the second group, producers and distributors of food, equipment, and services, include equipment suppliers and food and beverage suppliers. Equipment suppliers are an example of a segment of the food service industry that does not deal directly with food. Salespeople inform owners and managers of the latest supplies and appliances. Food suppliers may represent a farm or a food production corporation. Their salespeople try to convince restaurants to use their products. Representatives from wineries and liquor companies work with restaurant chefs and bartenders to use their products in the restaurant.

Americans' increasingly hectic lifestyles make cooking at home a challenge, so the restaurant and food industry enjoys steady growth. U.S. restaurants employ approximately 15.6 million workers., and the National Restaurant Association projects that 1.6 million new restaurant jobs will be created by 2030. The National Restaurant Association also expects industry sales of more than $899 billion for 2020. These numbers suggests steady employment for workers. However, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted current growth in the industry due to the forced closing of restaurants and subsequent loss of sales and jobs. The long-term outlook for restaurants and food services is yet to be determined. It should also be noted that the food industry is tied to the economy. When the economy drops, people tend to cut back on what they perceive as luxuries, which can include dining out. In addition, this industry can be tumultuous, with restaurants opening and closing frequently.

Another drawback to a tight economy is the treatment of employees. Due to low wages and low morale, fast food positions turn over four times a year on average. Since jobs are scarce, many employers feel their workers are lucky to have jobs, and that sentiment is reflected in their pay. Beginning in 2012, fast food workers in many cities decided they had had enough of being paid chronically low wages. In New York City, employees of several chains walked off the job, demanding their wages be raised from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour. Similar walkouts occurred in other cities. In New York State, on December 31, 2019, the minimum wage was increased to $15.00 per hour. Throughout the rest of the U.S., however, wages average anywhere from $7.25 to $12.00 per hour.