Marlborough, MA, April 29, 2008
Overview of Food Services Professions
The food services industry provides a wide array of career opportunities for individuals with no formal education to those with substantial post-secondary education. At its most basic, the industry offers careers in beginning or entry-level food preparation, advanced food preparation for fine dining establishments, and food services and restaurant management. There are also wait staff positions (waitresses and waiters), which are not covered in this article. This article will focus upon the food preparation and food services management professions.
Entry Level Food Services Professions
Beginning or entry level positions in the food services industry include jobs such as fast food cooks, food preparation workers, and short order cooks. These positions require no formalized cooking education and most do not even require a high school diploma. Most training for these positions is on-the-job. Chances for advancement for individuals without a high school diploma and some level of post-secondary food services education are, however, relatively limited.
Advanced Food Services Professions
Advanced food services professions are typically found in fine-dining establishments and restaurants. There are two basic areas of professions for individuals interested in cooking:
- Culinary arts which trains chefs to prepare food, typically the food associated with the courses of a meal (appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, and main courses).
- Baking and pastry arts which trains chefs to prepare baked goods, breads, desserts, and pastries.
Other professions within the food services industry include:
- Food Services / Restaurant Management (often combined with culinary or baking and pastry programs of study)
- Food Services Marketing
All of the advanced food services professions listed above have a couple of things in common. All require a high school diploma and all require some to substantial amounts of post-secondary education.
Jobs are expected to continue to be plentiful for entry level food services workers. The environment for advanced positions is, and will continue to be, much more competitive making a good educational foundation an absolute necessity (see: "Chefs, Cooks, and Food Preparation Workers", Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Educational Requirements for Advanced Food Services Professions
The advanced food services professions require specialized training in addition to a high school degree or equivalent. Programs of study typically can range from months, to 2 or 4 years. These programs of study may confer certificates or diplomas for those that are under 2 years in duration, to associate's degrees for those programs lasting 2 years, to bachelor's degrees for those programs lasting 4 years. As a general rule of thumb, career prospects improve the more advanced the educational credential.
Food service education programs are offered by vocational and technical education schools, cooking schools, as well as 2- and 4-year colleges and universities, many of which are career oriented schools.
Most Common Food Services Programs of Study
The more commonly offered programs of study for food services include:
- Baking and Pastry Arts
- Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management
- Culinary Arts
- Culinary Arts and Food Service Management
- Culinary Nutrition (or simply nutrition)
- Food Marketing
- Food Service Management
- Food Service Entrepreneurship (a variant on other management programs with an orientation for the chef/owner)
- Hospitality and Restaurant Management
- Hotel and Restaurant Management
Almost all food service programs have a very large practical, hands-on component. It is not at all uncommon for individuals pursuing cooking careers to spend most of their training hands-on in a lab kitchen. Internships/externships in working kitchens or restaurants are also frequently part of these programs to give students valuable "real world" experience.
Evaluating Schools for a Food Services Education
For a detailed description of a process for evaluating career-oriented schools for food service programs, see "Choosing A Career School". To summarize that process, when evaluating a career school for a food service program of study, an individual should:
- Assess themselves
- Assess the food services profession that they are considering
- Assess the educational institutions that provide food services programs
- Assess the specific food services (culinary arts, baking or pastry arts, food services management etc.) program of study
It is very important when evaluating the educational institution and program of study to assess the accreditation status of both the institution and the program of study.
Accreditation is a process of peer review by non-governmental organizations to insure the quality of an educational institution and the programs that it offers (see: "Accreditation in the United States", U.S. Department of Education (USDE), for more information on accreditation). It is very important to obtain a food services education from a school that is accredited to maximize the acceptance of that education by prospective employers. It is also important to obtain one's education from and educational institution that is accredited by an accreditation organization that is recognized by the USDE in order to be able to obtain Federal financial aid if needed (see: "Overview of Accreditation", U.S. Department of Education).
The following institutional accreditors are the most likely to provide accreditation for educational institutions that offer food services education programs:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education
- Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Technical and Career Institutions
- New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Board of Trustees
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
A couple of "specialized" accrediting organizations may also accredit culinary or nutrition programs:
- American Culinary Federation Educational Institute Accrediting Commission *
- Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association
* Note: The American Culinary Federation Educational Institute Accrediting Commission is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation but it is not recognized by the USDE.
Licensing and Certification Requirements for Food Service Careers
Licensing and certification is not a requirement to work in the food services industry. There are, however, some voluntary certifications available for individuals wishing to better demonstrate their expertise.
The American Culinary Federation offers the following certification credentials:
- Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC)
- Certified Working Pastry Chef (CWPC)
- Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC)
- Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC)
- Certified Culinary Administrator (CCA)
- Certified Secondary Culinary Educator (CSCE)
- Certified Culinary Educator (CCE)
The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) offers certification programs in the following areas:
- The ServSafe Food Protection Manager Training and Certification
- ServSafe Alcohol Fundamentals of Responsible Alcohol Service Training and Certification
- Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) Certification
- NRAEF Summer Institutes -- Teacher Certification
Food Services Resources
- American Culinary Federation (ACF)
- "Chefs", Career Prospects in Virginia
- "Cooks and Chefs", California Occupational Guide
- The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF)
- "Chefs, Cooks, and Food Preparation Workers", Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics