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Food Service Workers

The Job

Food service workers have a variety of job duties depending on the size and kind of food establishment in which they are employed. In small restaurants, sandwich shops, grills, diners, fast food outlets, and cafeterias, customers are usually looking for hot food and quick service. Informal waiters, servers, and lunchroom or coffee shop counter attendants work to satisfy patrons and give them the kind of attention that will make them repeat customers. They take customers' orders, serve food and beverages, calculate bills, and sometimes collect money. Between serving customers, waiters in small establishments may clear and clean tables and counters, replenish supplies, and set up table service for future customers. When business is slow, they spend some time cleaning the serving area and equipment such as coffee machines and blenders. Combined food preparation and serving workers work specifically at fast food establishments. They are the people who take food and drink orders from customers at the counter or drive-through window. They also bring the ordered items to the customers and take payment. During quiet periods at the restaurant, they may be responsible for such chores as making coffee, cooking french fries, or cleaning tables. Counter attendants in lunchrooms, coffee shops, and diners often do some simple cooking tasks, such as making sandwiches, salads, and cold drinks and preparing ice cream dishes. They also may have to help with such tasks as cleaning kitchen equipment, sweeping and mopping floors, and carrying out trash. Other workers in this category include cafeteria counter attendants, supervisors, canteen operators, and fountain servers.

In larger and more formal restaurants, waiters, or servers, perform essentially the same services as those working in smaller establishments, but they usually have extra duties designed to make the dining experience more enjoyable. These duties may include seating the customers, presenting them with menus, suggesting choices from the menu, informing the customers of special preparations and seasonings of food, and sometimes suggesting beverages that would complement the meal. They check to see that the correct dinnerware and utensils are on the table and try to attend to any special requests the customers may have.

Servers in expensive restaurants serve food following more formal and correct procedures. Captains, headwaiters, maitre d's, and hosts or hostesses may greet and seat the guests, take reservations over the phone, and supervise the service of the waiters. Wine stewards, also known as sommeliers, assist customers in selecting wines from the restaurant's available stock.

Bartenders mix and dispense alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks in hotels, restaurants, cocktail lounges, and taverns. Besides mixing ingredients to prepare cocktails and other drinks, they serve wine and beer, collect payment from customers, order supplies, and arrange displays of bar stock and glassware. Bartenders, or their assistants, may also prepare fruit for garnishes, serve simple appetizers, wash glasses, and clean the bar area.

Dining room attendants, also known as waiters' assistants, buspersons, or bussers, assist the waiters in their duties. They may clear and reset tables, carry soiled dishes to the dishwashing area, carry in trays of food, and clean up spilled food and broken dishes. In some restaurants, these attendants also serve water and bread and butter to customers. During slow periods, they may fill salt and pepper shakers, clean coffeepots, and do various other tasks. Cafeteria attendants clear and set tables, carry trays of dirty dishes to the kitchen, check supplies, and sometimes serve coffee to customers.

While dining room and cafeteria attendants assure clean and attractive table settings in the dining areas, kitchen assistants help maintain an efficient and hygienic kitchen area by cleaning food preparation and storage areas, sweeping and scrubbing floors, and removing garbage. They may also move supplies and equipment from storage to work areas, perform some simple food preparation, and wash the pots and pans used in cooking. To keep the kitchen operating smoothly, they maintain a steady supply of clean dishes by scraping food from plates, stacking dishes in and removing them from the dishwasher, polishing flatware, and removing water spots from glasses. Dishwashers wash dishes, cutlery, and cooking equipment and utensils.

Some food servers may be designated by the place in which they work or the type of specialized service they perform, such as carhops and dining car, room service, takeout, buffet, and club waiters.