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:
Other professions within the food services industry include:
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:
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:
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:
A couple of "specialized" accrediting organizations may also accredit culinary or nutrition programs:
* 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:
The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) offers certification programs in the following areas:
Food Services Resources