Types of Restaurant Jobs

We get a lot of emails from people (usually students and teenagers) who are interested in finding a job in a restaurant but aren’t exactly sure what types of jobs are available or if they’d be qualified. If that sounds like you, fear not: we’re here to help.

Unless you’ve worked in the restaurant industry before, you will probably be surprised at just how many types of restaurant jobs are out there. Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the most popular jobs in the industry to help you figure out which one would be best for you.

Server

Working as a server would be easy if customers were always nice and the kitchen never made a mistake. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

You’ve probably been out to eat enough to know what a good server is. They’re attentive but not overbearing, professional but not condescending, and always helpful. And though it looks easy, it can actually take a whole lot of practice to get that balance just right.

The good (and bad) thing about working as a server is that most of your income comes from tips. That’s a great thing when you work in a nice restaurant where people order hundreds of dollars of food and leave nice tips. It can be a not-so-great thing when you’re working in a diner where the average bill is $15 and you’re averaging a dollar or two per table. It can also lead to very unstable paychecks, requiring you to plan ahead with your personal finances.

As with virtually all restaurant jobs, working as a server requires you spend long shifts on your feet. It’s rare to find a server who isn’t physically and emotionally drained by the time they head home at night.

Host / Hostess

When you walk into a restaurant, the first person you usually see is the host or hostess. And though you may not realize it as a customer, hosts and hostesses hold one of the most important jobs in a restaurant. Without a good host, the wait times can be long, servers can get frustrated, and the kitchen can very quickly become overwhelmed.

In most cases, hosts are trained on the job. Previous experience is always preferred, but don’t let a lack of experience prevent you from applying. Each restaurant is different, and to become a good host, you’ll have to become intimately familiar with the layout, the wait staff, and the kitchen.

Though seating people may sound straightforward, it actually takes a fair amount of planning and coordination. You don’t want to fill up one server’s section to quickly, or they will become overwhelmed and unable to care for all of their guests at once. You also don’t want to fill up a section to slowly, or a server may not have much to do and their tips for the night will suffer.

In many restaurants, hosts receive a percentage of all tips that the servers receive. The amount varies by restaurant, but is usually around a couple percent. This gives the host an incentive to do as much as they can to keep the restaurant running as smoothly as possible.

Cook

If you haven’t worked in a restaurant before, you may think that a cook only has to cook the food, put it on a plate, and hand it over to a waitress. And while that does cover part of the job, it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

In my experience working as a cook, cleaning is just as important as cooking. And not only for hygienic reasons. It can take hours to clean up the kitchen after a restaurant closes, and the more you clean up after yourself as you go, the less work you have to do later on (and you can finally go home).

Cooks also have to regularly re-stock their workstations during the night. This usually involves heading to the walk-in refrigerator, grabbing the supplies you need, and taking them back to your workstation. Heavy lifting is sometimes required, depending on what you need.

In many restaurants, a prep cook comes in before the restaurant opens to prepare and organize all the supplies that will be needed for the day. This is usually a more senior-level cook, as you have to understand exactly how the kitchen works to do this job well. Usually, the prep cook will continue to work a shift as a ‘regular’ cook after the restaurant opens and the prep work is done.

A kitchen works best when the cooks, servers, and expediters can remain cool and communicate well with each other — even when the pressure is high. Having the ability to stay calm and cool under pressure is a huge asset in this line of work.

Expediter

Essentially, expediters are the intermediate party between the cooks and the waitstaff. Their job is to watch the tickets, make sure that the food is going out as ordered, and make sure that customers are receiving their food in an appropriate amount of time. To put it simply, the job of an expediter is quality control.

This can be a very stressful job (the servers can get upset when food takes too long or isn’t right, and the cooks can get upset when they feel like they’re being nagged or pressured). Having strong people skills and the ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently are both essential.

Working as an expediter is not an easy job, but it can be very rewarding for the right person. This is not an entry-level position, as it requires a deep understanding of the kitchen and the menu. Often times, experienced cooks or managers will move into this role with experience.

Dishwasher

Some people have a relatively low opinion of dishwashers. Those people have never worked in a restaurant. Even though it’s typically a low paying entry-level job, it’s hard to find anyone in a kitchen who doesn’t respect a good dishwasher — because everyone in the restaurant needs a good dishwasher to do their job well.

A dishwasher is basically the supply line for everyone else who comes into the kitchen. Servers need them for clean glasses and silverware. Cooks and expediters need them for clean plates and other dishes. In a high volume restaurant, the job can be extremely demanding, requiring the dishwasher to keep constant inventory of what’s available and when specific items will be needed again. The ability to think on the fly and plan ahead is critical to doing this job well.

This can also be a physically demanding job. Lifting crates of glasses or large stacks of plates isn’t hard to do once, but it can be hard to do hundreds of times over the course of a shift. Even a dishwasher in good physical condition can suffer from an ailing back by the end of the night.

Bartender

Everyone loves a good bartender, but it takes a whole lot of practice and experience to be a good one.

Being able to mix a great drink isn’t enough to excel at this job, especially in a busy bar. Waiting on 10, 20, or even more people at the same time is not an easy thing to do. Being friendly and attentive while you do it is even harder, and something that only experienced bartenders usually excel at.

That said, the most difficult parts of this job aren’t usually in the job description. Dealing with obnoxious, drunk, or overly aggressive people is a way of life for a lot of bartenders. It isn’t easy to cut someone off, kick someone out, satisfy an angry drunk, or clean up puke from the bar (sadly, this is a right of passage for many bartenders).

Doing this job well requires excellent people skills, an outstanding amount of patience, and of course, the ability to make killer drinks.

Baker

Working in restaurants can come with some demanding hours. But while most restaurant workers work through the evenings and late into the night, bakers often start work early in the morning — as early as 3 or 4:00.

While the hours might sound a little absurd, it makes sense when you think about it. It can take hours to prepare and bake foods. So if a store opens to the public at 8:00, you can see why bakers get to work so early in the morning to have fresh baked goods ready for their customers.

In nearly all cases, this is not an entry-level position. However, you may be able to get a job in an assistant type of role with some previous restaurant experience (and the right connections). If you’re dead set on becoming a baker but don’t have the experience you need, then it could be a good idea to take whatever position you can in a bakery (even a cashier), and learning as much about the business as possible. As you get to know the business better, ask if you can start to shadow or help out in the kitchen. There aren’t any guarantees, but you have to get your start by getting your foot in the door.

Barista

Baristas prepare and serve coffee. And while that sounds incredibly easy, it very rarely is.

Baristas often work in very busy environments, where customers want their order right, fast, and served with a smile. That’s one thing when there is only one customer to serve, but something entirely different when you have ten impatient people in line, each with their own custom order. Can you get all of their drinks out quickly, without making a mistake?

In many ways, the skills needed to do this job well are the same skills you need to do well as a bartender. You have to be professional and courteous as you work, and you need the ability to mentally keep track of many orders at the same time.

One of the perks of working as a baristas is that you’re often able to work more ‘normal’ hours than a lot of other food and restaurant jobs. Yes, coffee shops do open early in the morning, but they generally aren’t open terribly late, making it possible for you to spend many of your evenings at home should you so desire.

Counter Attendant

Counter attendants serve food and drinks at take out counters. For example, think about someone who works at a snack bar or bakery counter. Those are counter attendants.

This is almost always an entry-level position, and all of the necessary training will be provided to you on the job.

As far as food and restaurant jobs go, this one is relatively stress-free. Though you do spend your whole day on your feet and have to interact with customers, you aren’t directly preparing the food yourself.

Pay-wise, the majority of counter attendants make minimum wage. Some establishments do use tip jars, though, making it possible to earn more than minimum wage.

Updated: 09/03/2017

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