The Truth About the Different Positions You Can Work in A Restaurant

The Truth About the Different Positions You Can Work in A Restaurant
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

Working in a restaurant can be chaotic, stressful, and tiring. But if you know what you're getting into, and can navigate in the weeds, it can also be a fun, lucrative, and rewarding part-time or full-time job.

Just a heads up, the turnover rate (how often people leave and start jobs) in the restaurant industry is infamously high as restaurant staffing remains a serious struggle for restaurant managers – and three out of five restaurateurs listed labor costs and employee turnover and hiring as a top worry for their business.¹

While it’s true that the restaurant industry’s high turnover rate is largely due to seasonal workers – such as students and summer employees – who take on a position with no intention of keeping it for more than a year, it also suggests that many people still get into the industry without a true passion for it, or they take the wrong role.

Since there are so many positions in a restaurant, it’s worthwhile to take a look at some of the restaurant jobs you could apply to so you can figure out which role is best for you, the restaurant business, and your ongoing success and fulfillment in this exciting industry.

Read on as we list out some of the most popular job positions in a restaurant, alongside the responsibilities each role entails, the skills they require, their advantages and challenges, and what you might expect to earn as compensation.

This should be enough for you to comfortably and confidently decide which position in a restaurant you want to apply to.

3 Tips for Aspiring Restaurant Employees

  1. Grow with the flow: If you’re in the industry for long enough, you’ll inevitably move around into different positions, or do work that might not originally be on your job posting. For example – as we’ll soon get into – dishwashers may be expected to help with various kitchen prep duties.
  2. Experience is everything: Those with proven track records of high performance during high priority shifts will find career growth paths open up, trusted relationships with managers develop, and first dibs on more lucrative or favorable shifts.
  3. Showcase your skills: New hires and those with less experience will typically be lighter or less busy shifts to start. However, with this comes the opportunity to learn from the vets, show your initiative, and show your skill and reliability on the job. As your efforts maximize sales, they will get noticed, your schedule will improve too.

Tip Sharing in Restaurants

One of the biggest components to working in a restaurant is the role that tips play in employees’ compensation. The rules of tip sharing in restaurants vary depending on where you work, but here are a few fast facts to inform your decision on whether to take a tipped wage role or not.

How Tipping Works

  • Typically, servers in full-service restaurants receive a tip of anywhere from 15-25% of the pre-tax bill total, depending on the quality of service and the generosity of the customer.
  • Bussers and support staff usually are tipped, but the method of tipping varies in each restaurant. Some restaurants take a percentage of a server’s sales from tips (usually 1-3%) and give that to bussers, while other restaurants operate on an honors system and expect servers and bussers to work it out between themselves.
  • Some restaurants and bars require tip pooling – where all tips are jointly shared by the waitstaff and a certain percentage goes to the support staff. However, this practice is heavily regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act, so check with potential employers to see how tips are shared in each restaurant before working there.²
  • Tips do not go to the back-of-house staff, which has resulted in some restaurants implementing a percentage-based “kitchen service fee” to bridge the gap between FOH and BOH wages.

Back-of-House Positions in a Restaurant

Line Cook

Once a server sends an order to the kitchen, everything that happens until the server picks up the finished plate is the responsibility of the line cook. On top of cooking meals, line cooks may may also engage in standard meal prep like pre-portioning salads and weighing food items for consistent portioning.

Previous restaurant or kitchen experience is preferred – especially in higher-end restaurants. Payscale reports a line cook salary at an average of $11.76 per hour.³

The best part?

You’re unlikely to be bored – that’s for sure! Line cooks can be responsible for juggling dozens of orders at once, while utilizing ovens, grills, stoves, freezers, and more cooking utensils than you may have even thought existed. If you’re looking for a job that keeps your focus (and your adrenaline levels) high, this is for you.

Also, if you talk to anyone with a high-ranking position in the back of house, there’s a good chance they started as a line cook. As long as you work hard and well, you’re on a clear path of upward mobility in the kitchen.

The part nobody talks about...

The highs of working as a line cook certainly aren’t for everyone. With pots clanging, grills fizzling, and chefs yelling, describing a restaurant kitchen as chaotic and unpredictable is an understatement. If you’re not looking to significantly raise your heart rate every time you clock into work, this role may not be your best bet.

Kitchen Manager

Want to make sure the back of house is running smoothly? This role could be perfect for you. The duties of a kitchen manager can take many forms – from leading the staff of cooks and chefs, to managing inventory and kitchen equipment – with the ultimate goal of an efficient kitchen. But no matter the restaurants, be prepared to swim in spreadsheets for scheduling, ordering, and inventory management.

Typically, kitchen managers are hired internally, after years of dedicated experience. External candidates with relevant restaurant or management skills also have a good chance of being hired. Salary.com lists a kitchen manager’s salary at around $51,000 annually.⁴

The best part?

Working as a kitchen manager means setting the BOH team up for success. You’ll handle the ordering, stocking, and preparation to ensure the kitchen runs smoothly. If you’re an organizer, you’ll love this job.

The part nobody talks about...  

Managing a kitchen means almost never working for less than 40 hours a week, even if that’s what you’re being paid for. So you have to accept that you’ll always feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Plus, the average cook has a tenure of less than two months in a restaurant, meaning that hiring and onboarding will likely be constant in your job.

Sous Chef

Second-in-command to the head chef, the sous chef has a hands-on role in both cooking and in staff oversight. But outside of those on-the-spot tasks, this role affords the opportunity to learn directly from the head chef in managing a team and creating new menu items.

A sous chef is typically promoted to the role after months or years as a junior chef, or even as far back as years as a line cook. Any experience with flavor profiling, building a menu, or attending culinary school is also a plus. Payscale puts a sous chef’s salary at a hair over $43,000.⁵

The best part?

You’re essentially head chef in training. As second-in-command, you gain the experience and knowledge needed to run your own kitchen someday if you’re willing to put the work in and manage your staff well, the kitchen is your oyster.

The part nobody talks about...  

You’ve really got to put that work in. Sous chef is an underappreciated job – often requiring that you put in more hours and physical labor than the head chef without nearly as much reward. Your happiness on the job is also extremely contingent on the head chef you’re working for.

If your head chef isn’t dedicated or organized, or heck, if you both simply do not gel, it will make your job more difficult than it needs to be. If you're looking for a sous chef role, be sure you get along with your head chef!

Executive Chef (or Head Chef)

The Big Kahuna of the Kitchen! People spend years studying, training, and working for the distinction of being a restaurant’s executive chef. If you’re just now getting started in the industry, your chances of getting this role immediately are admittedly slim, but it’s certainly something to aspire towards.

Being a head chef entails running the kitchen from a culinary standpoint, creating new menu items, and leading a team of sous chefs to follow in your footsteps. Years as sous chef, which in turn requires culinary school experience or years a cook or junior chef, are required for this role.

Payscale lists the average Executive Chef salary at around $60,000 – but this is widely contingent on the location and prestige of the restaurant, as well as what you bring to the business.⁶

The best part?

Take a lot of pride in this role. If you’re the executive chef, it means you’ve reached the crowning achievement that not many restaurant employees have. That feeling alone is a huge benefit to this position. You also get to be involved in the overseeing of many different parts of the back of house. From inventory management, to staff organization, to meal prep, to just picking up the slack where needed, there’s never a dull moment and always a chance to make an impact.

The part nobody talks about...

The pressure’s on. An angry critic or Yelp! reviewer can sully something you’ve invested years of hard work and time. You're going to need a thick skin and ability to talk to unhappy customers in public.

You’re also going to have to deal with the industry’s high turnover rate – which can jeopardize staff morale and the quality and consistency of the dishes you send to guests – in addition to inventory and delivery issues and keeping the kitchen organized and efficient when those busy shifts start.

Dishwasher

Every restaurant needs ‘em – and when the average dishwasher only sticks around for about a month, it’s likely the role is in demand right now at a restaurant near you.

Former experience in a restaurant or as a dishwasher will give kitchen managers more confidence when considering your application, though the only necessities are usually a good work ethic and a flexible schedule. According to Snagajob, the average dishwasher wage is $8.20 per hour.⁷

The best part?

Dishwashers are the backbone of a kitchen. Try serving a meal without any clean utensils and see what happens. Land a job in the right dishpit and you'll eat (staff meals) like you're royalty, and let your work ethic do the talking.

A dishwasher job is an opportunity to impress management and work your way up – especially since you’ll likely be doing more than just washing dishes. Don’t think it’s possible? Tell that to Sheldon Simeon, who worked his way up from dishwasher to restaurant owner who has appeared on Top Chef.⁸

The part nobody talks about...  

The job isn’t pretty, and those without commitment are quick to drop off. At at the end of the day, the job is reliable if you put the work in. On top of that, any dishwasher will tell you that they’re quickly tasked with duties outside of their role requirements, like bussing, kitchen prep, or even cooking when the restaurant is short-staffed.

Front-of-House Positions in a Restaurant

Server

The server role is the essence of any full-service restaurant. Waiters and waitresses greet guests at the table, take and deliver food orders, check in on the satisfaction of the party, and close the bill. Mastering the role requires being ever-present for whenever guests need you and invisible so as to never impede on the dining experience.

Former serving experience is always a plus. However, you can also start as a busser or host(ess) and work your way up. Server jobs in more elegant restaurants may require years of experience as a waiter or waitress. US News has the average waiter or waitress salary at just shy of $21,000, though it’s safe to assume that tips aren’t reflected in this number.⁹

The best part?

If you’re a social person, this job is for you. You’ll interact with countless guests over your career, and you’ll rub shoulders with workers in all parts of the restaurant. Plus, if you work at a classy or busy restaurant, you’ll make more than enough in tips.

The part nobody talks about...  

High-paying jobs with great tips aren’t guaranteed. Plus, serving takes an enormous amount of physical exertion. You’re on your feet for hours at a time and always carrying something to or from the kitchen. If you are new and want to work a busier (read: more lucrative)  shift or section, you may need to negotiate coverage with senior staff, or demonstrate your skills to management first.

Busser

The silent warriors of the front of house, bussers work to set and clean tables before and after each party arrives. The role requires impeccable speed to keep tables turning and attention to detail to ensure no spots are missed.

This job requires very little previous experience. The restaurant is typically looking for a hard worker who’s willing to work from the ground up and get the job done. Previous restaurant experience can help get the job, though. Job-applications.com reports the average salary for bussing in a restaurant is around $15,000 per year, or $9.25 an hour.¹⁰

The best part?

Like barbacks are for bartenders, bussers are a server's best friend. The more attentive and receptive you are to the needs of the customers, the better a busser can make their crew look. When en entire crew is tuned into and providing excellent customer service, guests are happy, servers are happy and gratuities flow.

Bussing is a great way to get your foot in the door at a busy restaurant, work hard, learn the floor, menu and cadence of business, and take home a decent tip out. All the while, you are setting yourself up for a serving position not too far down the road.

The part nobody talks about...  

Bussing usually results in little acknowledgement from guests, since one of the goals of the role is to be stealthy. Cleaning up broken dishware, spills, and accidents are among the less-glamorous parts of the job. Also, some restaurants aren’t as structured about their tip sharing protocol, which could leave you light at the end of the night.

Host or Hostess

The host is the first person guests interact with when visiting a restaurant. A great host is organized and empathetic. They greet and show guests to their table, handle reservations and phone calls, and manage the waiting list.  

Hardly any previous work experience is require to get a job as a host. Like in the other examples on this list, previous experience in this or a similar role at another restaurant can only help. PayScale reports the salary for this restaurant position at $9.60 per hour.¹¹

The best part?

The job is pretty low-maintenance, so you’ll be able to get your work done without too much of a physical or emotional toil. You also get to be the first and last person guests interact with making your role critical to creating stellar customer experience.

The part nobody talks about...  

Those dinner shifts on weekends and holidays can be unforgiving. Be prepared to deal with impatient, hungry, or irritable customers when you need to explain that the wait is two hours or that their table still isn’t ready.

Bartender

Bartenders prepare, mix and serve pints, wine, liquor, cocktails and mixed drinks. While you’ll probably get more face time with patrons than a server, the amount of effort needed for the role is no different.

Many barbacks work their way up to a bartender position, so consider taking that job before applying to be a bartender. Other times, servers can transition behind the bar to take on a new role. ZipRecruiter lists the average pre-tip bartender salary you can expect in each state, ranging from approximately $16,000 in North Carolina to $23,000 for New York. Looking at the median on the list, you’ll see a number just shy of $20,000 annually in the United States.¹²

The best part?

If you thrive in the buzz of the nightlife, you’ll absolutely thrive on the weekend shifts – where you have the potential to make a killing in tips. If you have a creative side, you'll be able to exercise it creating your own signature cocktails. Not only that, bartender's tend to be excellent networkers, and are the first to hear about the latest and greatest of what's going on in the city.

The part nobody talks about...

At first, a new bartending gig can be overwhelming. You'll have to study lists of ingredients and recipes for cocktails, memorize on-hand beer and wine selections to make good recommendations, and, if your at a high volume restaurant, make drinks for the dining room and bar. In the long term, bartending can be draining, if the late night and weekend shifts, and lack of job security don't grind away at your comfort, you'll be good.

If you can read through these challenges without flinching, you might be cut to to be a drink slinging barkeep!

Let’s Get to Work!

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of which restaurant jobs speak to you and where to start focusing your attention, so what are you waiting for? Start turning in those applications – and start your own adventure working restaurant a restaurant!

Once you've decided which position is the best fit for you, it's time to consider the type of restaurant you'd like to work in. Read our blog post to learn more about the restaurant industry: Working in A Restaurant: Everything You Need to Know



Sources:

  1. The Nation's Restaurant News Industry Insight Study: Restaurant Business Management, Informa Engage, 2019
  2. https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs15.htm
  3. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Line_Cook/Hourly_Rate
  4. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/benchmark/kitchen-manager-salary
  5. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Sous_Chef/Salary
  6. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Executive_Chef/Salary
  7. https://www.snagajob.com/job-descriptions/dishwasher/
  8. https://entrepreneurialchef.com/chef-sheldon-simeon-celebrating-hawaiian-cuisine/
  9. https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/waiter-and-waitress/salary
  10. https://www.job-applications.com/restaurant-jobs/restaurant-busser-job/
  11. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Host%2FHostess/Hourly_Rate

Restaurant Scheduling Software
for managers that want to stay in control

The easiest way to spend 80% less time scheduling your restaurant staff.

Try 7shifts for free.

AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content specialist at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.