We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What does a Food Service Worker do?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A food service worker can perform many duties. His or her job description and the general requirements may be different depending upon the employer. The area in which one works may also make a difference, as some areas have more stringent requirements.

As a waiter, waitress, or bartender in a restaurant, one may not need a food service worker certificate or license, while in other areas certification is necessary even for bussers and dishwashers. A food service professional employed by a hospital, nursing home, school, or other institution may also require further education as well as documentation.

The waitress, waiter, or bartender is generally responsible for serving food or drinks as his or her main duty. Additional duties are also typical, including “side work” which may include refilling condiments and other supplies, cleaning work stations, collecting the bill, and making change. In higher end restaurants and lounges, choosing wine, explaining food preparation, proper table setting, and even napkin folding may be required.

A busser is generally responsible for clearing tables but may also be required to reset them. Cleaning work stations and emptying trash may also be included in the busser’s duties. Dishwashers are charged with keeping dishes, utensils, pots, pans, and other containers or tools clean, sanitized, and returned to their proper places.

The food service worker employed by an institution, such as a school, is likely to be required to have some education in sanitation and nutrition. In many areas, there are very specific guidelines for school meals that must be followed. Certain amounts of foods from each of the food groups must be included, so significant planning goes into each menu long before food preparation begins.

Food must be handled appropriately as well. Unwrapped food must be handled only while wearing gloves. Cold foods and hot foods must be kept at appropriate temperatures. Food storage is also important, as uncooked meat should never be stored above or near ready-to-eat food to avoid contamination. Proper serving and clean up are also essential.

The above guidelines apply to the food service professional in other institutional settings as well, since improper sanitation or handling of food can lead to food related illness. There are many regulations as well as common sense guidelines, which must be followed to ensure quality food service. Food poisoning and similar issues are huge liabilities. In hospitals or nursing homes, even prisons, the food service worker may need to plan and prepare menus to meet special dietary needs as well.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By dill1971 — On Aug 07, 2011

My niece, who is 17, was looking for a summer job to make some extra money. I had a cousin that worked at a Christian camp in our town. She got my niece hired on for the summer. Her job was to work in food service.

She actually loved it. She prepared the food according to how many campers were there. The place is called Shocco Springs and church groups come from all over the place to have their church camp there. She not only served food and cleaned tables. She also made a lot of new friends. It was a great experience for her.

By shell4life — On Aug 07, 2011

To make extra money in high school, I worked as a busser at a steakhouse on Friday and Saturday nights. The pay was low, but it was enough for me to buy gas and go to movies with friends.

After a group would leave a table, I would roll my cart over to it and start stacking the dishes and silverware into it. I placed used napkins and straw paper into the garbage bin of my cart. Once I had removed everything, I sprayed the table down with a disinfectant and wiped it with a fresh paper towel.

I also wiped the salt and pepper shakers, as well as any ketchup or sauce bottles on the table. If they were low, I would take them to the kitchen for a refill. I made sure plenty of sugar and cream packets stayed on the table for coffee and tea.

By seag47 — On Aug 06, 2011

I worked in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant as a salad preparer. They had recently added several salads to their menu in response to a request from the public for more healthy items, and they were selling like crazy. So, my job was exclusively to make salads.

I wore disposable gloves at all times, along with a hairnet. I washed all the vegetables thoroughly before chopping them, and I checked to see that all of the ingredients were fresh. I had orders to dispose of wilted lettuce or wrinkly vegetables.

I hated receiving salads from restaurants with wilted veggies and spoiled fruit. I liked my job, because I got to ensure that this never happened to customers at our establishment.

By StarJo — On Aug 06, 2011

My sister-in-law works as a chef in the kitchen of a university. This particular eating area is buffet style, and she has to prepare a variety of foods each day.

The menu changes daily. One day they will offer spaghetti and pizza, and the next fried chicken and hamburgers. The students always have a wide selection of vegetables, and my sister-in-law works hard to provide them with quality food.

Though she has no professional training, she got hired after the manager tasted some of her dishes. She grew up watching her mom cook, and she developed skills at a young age.

By Perdido — On Aug 06, 2011

Upon applying as a waitress at a certain chain restaurant, my friend had to take home the menu to memorize it. At her interview, she received a test on it.

In addition to committing the menu to memory, the waitresses had to know how each dish was prepared. They had to know about ingredients that could be health issues for people with allergies and lactose intolerance. They had to learn what to recommend to diabetics and people who need low sodium choices.

Knowing which foods contained nuts and shellfish and which were cooked in the same oil as foods containing those things could save lives. That’s why waitresses received tests at random intervals to test their knowledge of both new and regular menu items.

By chivebasil — On Aug 05, 2011

I have worked in food service for most of my working life and there are literally thousands of different jobs that need to be done.

I worked at one bar and grill that had a ridiculously long menu. It must have been 5 pages long and featured everything from pizza to steaks to seafood to pasta. Everyday we had a huge prep list and when the food started rolling our there were tons of different recipes to consult. At that job I pretty much had to do it all. I was a much better cook when I left.

But on the flip side I once worked for a buffet in a casino and my job was as simple and as small as could be. All I did all day was chop lettuce. They needed tons of it to stock the salad bar and to put on sandwiches and what not. So all day I just cut up lettuce and only lettuce. After my first week my mind went completely numb. That was probably the most boring job I've ever had.

So there are all kinds of jobs. Some are interesting and others are terrible. It is really a dynamic industry to work in.

By gravois — On Aug 04, 2011

@Greenweaver - I can understand your concerns but I think you need to be a little more realistic about the situation. You need to quite literally trust your gut. If you have eaten at a restaurant many times and never gotten sick than why would you need to worry about it?

These sorts of news stories about unsanitary conditions are popular because they are easy to produce and they get peoples attention. But think about it. How many restaurant have you gotten food poisoning from. How many motel rooms have made you sick. The human body is stronger than it gets credit for.

I bring this up because I used to work in a pizza place where we didn't use gloves. Some people commented on it but it was never an issue because after we made the pizza it went into a 500 degree oven for 10 minutes. Any germs that may have been on there were burned up in the oven. It may have looked unsanitary but it really wasn't.

By icecream17 — On Aug 04, 2011

I think that if must be difficult at times to be a food service worker because if the food is delayed often the waiter or waitress gets the blame even though it is really not their fault.

Sometimes the kitchen staff is short and the food takes longer to come out. I think that a good waiter apologizes and accepts the blame even though it wasn’t their fault. This job is really for someone that like dealing with the public and can deal with all different types of customers because some people can be harsh.

By surfNturf — On Aug 03, 2011

@GreenWeaver - I remember that restaurant. I think that it doesn’t matter how good the food is if the food service workers don’t follow sanitary procedures and maintain a clean restaurant. It makes people want to go somewhere else.

I always judge how clean the restaurant is by the condition of the bathroom. If the bathroom is clean then chances are that the food service workers are also maintaining a clean kitchen.

By GreenWeaver — On Aug 02, 2011

I have to say that I every time I go to a casual dining or even fast food restaurant I always look to see if the food service workers that are preparing my food are wearing gloves.

If they don’t wear gloves I usually don’t order any food and go somewhere else. I feel better when they do have gloves because I don’t have to worry about them transmitting germs to me.

The sanitary conditions of a restaurant are a big deal because if word gets out that a restaurant is not clean or follow average health standards that could be the end of that restaurant.

That is what happened to Bennigans. They featured a story with a hidden camera about the standards in the restaurant chain because it was had multiple health code violations and as a result the restaurant chain filed for bankruptcy because people were turned off by the lack of health standards in this restaurant.

By strawCake — On Aug 02, 2011

@SZapper - I remember being trained when I worked in a restaurant. My training consisted mostly of watching really cheesy, outdated videos. I thought they were quite hilarious at the time.

The training wasn't so bad, but I really hated the side work. It took my forever to roll silverware. However, my least favorite thing was filling up expo, which is where all the sauces were kept. There's just something about a large container of mayo that's inherently gross. Plus, blue cheese was a part of the collection and I just hate blue cheese!

By SZapper — On Aug 01, 2011

I worked as a waitress in high school and I didn't need any kind of certification. I did receive on the job safety training though, as well as food safe handling training.

The restaurant I worked at then didn't serve alcohol. However, I worked at a few places in college that did serve alcohol and they required you to take a class and get what's called a "Serve Safe" certificate. This is basically so you know when to stop serving someone.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.