Food Service Workers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Applicants for jobs as waiters or other food service workers usually do not need a high school diploma. Most employers, however, favor applicants with some high school training, and graduation from high school is generally considered a personal asset, especially if you are planning a career in this industry. While in high school, take family and consumer science classes to learn about food preparation, storage, and presentation. Take basic math classes because you will frequently be dealing with money and will need to do addition, subtraction, and division. At some restaurants waiters carry a certain amount of money with them and make change for customers' bills right at the tables. To do this, you must make quick and accurate calculations in your head. English and speech classes should help you develop your communications skills, which are very important for waiters to have. If you have hopes of moving into management positions or owning your own food business someday, take business and accounting classes as well. In some restaurants that specialize in the foods of a certain country, servers might need to speak a foreign language, so it is a good idea to take at least one foreign language.

Postsecondary Training

Vocational schools may offer special training courses for waiters. Special courses are sometimes offered by restaurant associations in conjunction with schools or food agencies, and many employers seek persons who have had such training.

Smaller, more informal restaurants may hire servers who are without special training or previous experience. In these situations, the necessary skills are learned on the job. Larger restaurants and those with more formal dining atmospheres usually hire only experienced waiters. Almost without exception, food counter workers, waiters' assistants, and kitchen helpers learn their skills on the job.

The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education offers a Guide to College Programs in Hospitality, Tourism, & Culinary Arts at 


The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation offers a variety of continuing education opportunities for food service workers and managers. For example, its ServSafe Food Handler certificate program provides training in five areas: basic food safety, personal hygiene, cross-contamination and allergens, time and temperature, and cleaning and sanitation. Visit for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute offers voluntary certification to food service workers such as certified restaurant server and certified kitchen cook. Food service workers almost always are required to obtain health certificates from the state Department of Public Health that certify they are free from communicable diseases, as shown by physical examination and blood tests. This is required for the protection of the general public.

Other Requirements

Bartenders and sommeliers must be at least 21 years of age in order to serve alcohol; many employers seek bartenders and sommeliers who are at least 25 years of age. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any volunteer or paid experience serving food to others will be useful for aspiring food service workers.

Food service workers generally must be free from any physical disabilities that would impair their movements on the job. They must possess strong physical stamina, because the work requires many long hours of standing and walking. Waiters and food counter workers need to have a congenial temperament, patience, and the desire to please and be of service to the public. All food service workers must be neat and clean in their personal hygiene and dress. Those who serve the public should present a pleasant appearance, be able to communicate well, and be able to use basic arithmetic skills to compute customers' checks. In some restaurants that specialize in the foods of a certain country, servers might need to speak a foreign language. A good memory and persuasive skills are additional personal assets for this occupation.