Being a School Cafeteria Worker

Mature woman serving food to students (12-14) in cafeteria
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Working as a cafeteria worker is a good job for people who want to interact with children but do not have the desire to teach. Cafeteria workers serve breakfast and lunch to school children during the school year and sometimes during the summer when federal programs fund meals for children in economically disadvantaged families.

Cafeteria workers are just one of the groups of people that contribute to children’s educations. They work alongside teacherscoachescounselorslibrarians, and other school personnel to help children get the most out of their school years.

School cafeteria jobs are typically posted on each school district’s website. The position does not usually require any experience and rarely requires more than a high school diploma. Previous employment in the restaurant industry is helpful but not necessary. On-the-job training is sufficient to prepare a new hire for the job’s daily tasks. The selection process is not rigorous. However, background checks are often conducted on finalists because they have access to children.

Education

New hires must be old enough to work and are hardly ever young enough to be typical-age high school students. Even though a 16-year-old can work, one is highly unlikely to be employed in a school cafeteria. Such a student would have to drop out of school and then return to a school setting to work. Consequently, cafeteria workers are at least 18 years old.

Job Duties

Nutritionists, dietitians, and other appropriately trained staff plan menus for school children's meals. These menus must meet rigorous nutrition standards. Cafeteria managers make sure cafeteria workers have the food and supplies they need to serve all the items on the menus.

Cafeteria workers frequently check their inventory of food and supplies so they can alert their managers when they notice that they might not have what they need. Doing this requires moving heavy boxes and equipment.

Cafeteria workers wear protective clothing such as plastic gloves and hairnets. Not only is it gross to find a hair in the gravy, but it is also unsanitary. As cafeteria workers prepare food, they must be diligent about food safety. In younger children, food-borne illnesses can be fatal.

Cafeteria workers must also avoid cross-contaminating food. For example, they change their gloves between handling raw meat or poultry and handling vegetables, and they ensure kitchen equipment, food preparation spaces, and dining rooms are routinely cleaned.

Cafeteria workers often perform cashier duties. They take the children’s payments for breakfasts and lunches and make change as appropriate. They must also be aware of which children receive government-subsidized free or reduced-price meals. Cafeteria workers keep this information confidential to keep other children from having ammunition to taunt, tease, or bully those children who receive those government benefits.

Earnings

Cafeteria workers are generally paid anywhere from $9 to $16 per hour. If they work a full-time schedule, they likely receive a better than average benefits package. Part-time workers may receive benefits as well, but some benefits may be prorated on the basis of how many hours per week they work.