Working in the food service industry does not compensate well, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS compiles annual salary data not only on the highest-paying jobs, but also on the lowest-paying jobs. Its National Compensation Survey, conducted in July 2009, found the following positions to be the lowest paying, on an annual earnings basis. Because many of these types of workers do not perform these jobs on a full-time basis, however, these numbers may be a bit misleading. If one is a part-time waiter or waitress, for example, while holding down another job, he or she would earn more than the average of $9453/year. You might notice that most of the jobs on this list require little, if any, formal education. This just reinforces the point that education equals higher earning potential.
1. Waiters and waitresses, $9453/year
Waiters and waitresses typically receive on-the-job training and need little, if any, education. While some employers of waiters and waitresses prefer hiring employees who possess a high school diploma, others will hire non-graduates and students. The lack of higher education necessary for the position partially explains why waiters and waitresses make the lowest salary of all of the professions in the United States. Try to keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to tip a waiter or waitress less than 20% of your total check.
2. Lifeguards, ski patrol, and other recreational protective service workers, $10,076/year
Because these jobs are seasonal, ranking them as the second lowest-paying job of all jobs may be a little misleading. However, if one did work full-time, for a whole year, as a lifeguard, ski patrol or recreational protective service worker, he or she would not earn enough to make a comfortable living. Most of these positions, too, do not require formal education but only advanced, on-the-job training and perhaps certification through the American Red Cross.
3. Bartenders, $14,099/year
The position of bartender is another job which one does not usually hold as a full-time solo job. Most bartenders tend to work part-time and may hold down two to three other jobs to make ends meet. While being a bartender might require a variety of skills, including those necessary of a counselor, psychologist and customer service specialist, sadly, bartenders are not paid a salary anywhere close to the salary that those professionals make.
4. Gaming dealers, $14,250/year
Gaming dealers work in casinos and may supervise other employees, run gaming tables, or provide surveillance to make sure patrons aren’t cheating. Most states require gaming dealers to be licensed by a state board or commission, but no specialized education beyond on-the-job training is usually necessary to perform the duties of a gaming dealer. While working in a casino might seem to be a glamorous, exciting position, unfortunately it does not pay well.
5. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers, $15,980/year
These types of service workers make it easier for all of us to enjoy food service in a variety of settings, including institutional cafeterias, dining rooms and restaurants. These service professionals may perform the thankless jobs of cleaning tables, carrying dirty dishes, replacing soiled table linens; setting tables; replenishing supplies of clean linens, silverware, glassware, and dishes; supplying the service bar with food, and serving water, butter, and coffee to patrons. These workers usually don’t hold down such a job on a full-time basis as it would be impossible to make a comfortable living on such a low salary. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to treat one of these service professionals like they’re invisible.
6. Transportation attendants (except flight attendants and baggage porters), $16,546/year
Transportation attendants work to help to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers on ships, buses, trains, or within the station or terminal. These workers perform duties like greeting passengers, explaining the use of safety equipment, serving meals or beverages, or answering questions related to travel. Customer service skills are highly necessary for this position, but no formal education is required.
7. Hosts and hostesses- restaurant, lounge, coffee shop: $16,703/year
Becoming a host or hostess is another position that does not require specialized education, sometimes not even a high school diploma. While being a host or hostess does pay marginally better than working as a waiter or waitress, it still is not atop the list of anyone’s “dream jobs,” to say the least.
8. Amusement and recreation attendants: $17,150/year
Amusement and recreation attendants may work at amusement parks, recreation facilities and other “fun” spots. Again, while these jobs may sound like fun, they do not pay a “fun” wage. Amusement and recreation attendants perform a variety of attending such as scheduling the use of recreation facilities, maintaining and providing equipment to participants of sporting events or recreational pursuits, or operating amusement concessions and rides. No formal education beyond on-the-job training is usually necessary in order to perform the duties of this position.
9. Fast food cooks: $17,760/year
Want to cook for McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s? If so, be prepared to earn a very low annual salary. Fast food cooks prepare and cook food in a fast food restaurant with a limited menu. Their duties are limited to preparation of a few basic items and normally involve operating large-volume single-purpose cooking equipment. Often a high school diploma is necessary to procure a position as a fast food cook, but not always.
10. Combined food preparation and services workers (including fast food): $17,765/year
These types of workers work in food preparation and services in fast food and other types of eateries. They perform a variety of food preparation duties other than cooking, such as preparing cold foods and shellfish, slicing meat, and brewing coffee or tea. It seems a bit odd that these types of workers actually make a higher annual salary than fast food cooks, but the BLS numbers don’t lie.