Foodservice Careers: Exploring Sectors, Making Moves, and Finding Your Fit

Posted by
Trust20 Contributors • 9 minute read

Foodservice careers are rarely static, and there are many different types of roles to choose from, far beyond what most people assume! If you find yourself wondering if you’re in the right sector, but you’re unsure of what other sectors are like or how to make the move from one to another, we’re here to help.

A brief overview of different foodservice sectors

How to move from one foodservice sector to another

Finding what’s right for you

A brief overview of different foodservice sectors 

It’s hard to know if you want to move into another sector if you don’t know what that other sector is actually like. We’ll walk you through a quick overview of each one, but we encourage you to do more research–including talking to people who work in that sector–if one piques your interest! 

What it’s like to work in the healthcare foodservice sector

Healthcare settings like hospitals have some similarities to other foodservice sectors: most kitchens are fast-paced environments, and all food workers need to have good hygiene practices and respect dietary restrictions.

Where healthcare differs is the increased focus on sanitation and diet. In healthcare, you’re working with vulnerable populations who often have weak immune systems, making it incredibly important to keep everything as clean as possible. And while food allergies should always be taken seriously, someone preparing for or recovering from a specific medical procedure will have other dietary considerations. 

Examples include: 

  • A patient with hypertension who needs a low-sodium diet

  • A patient with diabetes who needs a diet that keeps their blood sugar levels steady (controlled portions of carbohydrates and small snacks throughout the day) 

  • A patient with kidney disease who needs a diet that helps control renal function; protein or phosphorus intake may be limited depending on disease progression and treatment options

This makes the foodservice staff a vital part of a patient’s overall treatment plan. The staff who prepare the food might also serve it in some settings. That gives healthcare food workers the opportunity to interact with patients and directly impact their care. 

What it’s like to work in the education foodservice sector

No matter how long it's been since you stepped foot in a school cafeteria (or watched one on TV), the first word that comes to mind isn’t “peaceful.” They’re big, busy environments that have their own unique requirements: batch cooking, keeping food at safe temperatures for long periods of time, and a rising need for allergen awareness.

There’s an opportunity to provide guidance to other staff on how best to handle allergies and be a health hero for the students you prepare and serve food for daily. You get to build relationships with students and staff on a daily basis and through summer programs if you choose to work then. If not, you get summers off! A huge bonus, especially if you have school-age children and your partner has a traditional job.  

You will want to consider specific environmental challenges when deciding whether you want to pursue a role at a university vs. a smaller K-12 school. Smaller work environments will let you get to know students and their preferences better, while bigger ones will give you more opportunities to tackle unique challenges that crop up. 

In higher education, for example, there are distinct challenges to keeping food at safe temperatures for long periods while groups filter in and out to eat–without the heat sources also affecting ingredient storage or distribution of other contaminants like dust and dirt. 

The upside of working in higher education is being able to provide the most home-like atmosphere for students in preparing and serving the meals they eat while away from home and their families, often for the first time. Meals are the time they can relax, bond with new friends, and get the nourishment they need to stay healthy and on top of their new lives. 

What it’s like to be a culinary teacher 

If time spent with students is what piques your interest most about working in education, consider becoming a family and consumer sciences (FCS) teacher. Formerly known as “home economics,” these classes spend time teaching students basic kitchen skills they might not otherwise learn. 

FCS teachers don’t just cover things like how to prepare eggs but what kind of nutrition they provide, their function in a recipe, and how to read the labels on the cartons to decide which eggs to buy. You have the opportunity to teach students lessons they can carry with them for the rest of their lives, from temperature control on the stove to the temperature of ingredients used in baking, and so much more.

What it’s like to work in food science 

Food science encompasses a variety of career options: research and development for food companies, developing more efficient ways to produce or process food, monitoring food safety and designing quality assurance protocols, or even more academic pursuits like studying food sustainability. And that’s just naming a few! 

This sector of foodservice is the most unique and requires the most specialized education, training, and certifications, depending on which career path you pursue within it. There are still a lot of skill sets that overlap with the other sectors, however. 

Communication and problem-solving skills–often under pressure–are key for working in any sector of foodservice, including this one. 

What it’s like to work in restaurant kitchens

Restaurant kitchens are where most foodservice professionals get their start. From a simple sandwich shop to a Michelin-star restaurant, every kitchen is an environment that thrives on cooperation under chaos.

To find the kitchen that’s right for you, consider factors like how much prep work must be done from scratch (a limited menu vs. one that’s ten pages long), general hours of operation (a breakfast spot vs. one that’s only open for dinner), and anything else that will have the biggest impact on your life. 

Expect to work long hours with dangerous equipment (fire, knives, meat-slicing machines) on your feet. If you don’t have any prior hands-on kitchen experience, you’ll need that in addition to food handling training and certifications. Some of the best chefs in the world worked their way up from dishwashing. 

What it’s like to work for a food-focused non-profit organization

If the thought of a fast-paced kitchen isn’t appealing, there are a lot of other options! Many food-focused non-profits need people in roles across their organizations, from direct hands-on food preparation and packaging to organizing and running the programs themselves. 

Do some research to see what kinds of programs exist in your local community. Common ones include: 

  • Community kitchens: focused on feeding the community, these kitchens sometimes run programs helping people with barriers to employment get the skills they need to land a job in a professional kitchen 

  • Community gardens: from student programs to those for adults, these programs help locals learn to grow and harvest their own food, often sharing any extra fresh produce with the wider community 

  • Community takeout: often done in partnership with local restaurants, these programs help ensure any leftover food gets distributed in the community to those who need it most rather than letting it go to waste 

  • Food pantries: these provide food to those in the community who need it and usually have volunteer programs along with permanent employees to help source, organize, and distribute food 

There are other roles around your community to consider outside of nonprofits too: parks and recreation food programs, concession stands at local sports stadiums (professional or student), and more. You’re bound to find something that appeals to you and fits your unique skill set.  

How to move from one foodservice sector to another

You know you want to move sectors, so what now? Here’s what we recommend to make the move as seamless as possible. 

Start with a self-assessment

This will help you determine what skills you have that will transfer over and what skill gaps you’ll need to be mindful of as you job search and interview. Remember that a candidate who’s enthusiastic and willing to learn can make a better hire than someone who’s perfect on paper but ambivalent about the job.

Ask yourself: 

  • What skills do you have from the work you’ve done?

  • What skills do you need to move into the new sector? 

  • Where’s the gap you need to fill between those two? 

  • What do you enjoy most that you can take with you into the new sector? 

Be sure to communicate all of this clearly to the interviewer, including any plans you have for filling in your skill gaps. 

Fill in the gaps

You don’t have to be completely certified as you start job hunting and interviewing. Letting your potential bosses know that you’re already proactively involved in training or other certifications can often be enough for them to ask, “When can you start?”. 

There are some exceptions for certain legally required or other specialized training, but overall be sure you’re very clear about: 

  • What training you’ve already completed 

  • Any specialized training the new sector will require 

  • Any specialized reading or other media you can learn from and talk about to show your dedication to the transition (Including books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) 

Don’t just consider lateral moves

You don’t just have to move from one sector of foodservice that involves hands-on food preparation to another, either. Maybe you’ve enjoyed that for the past few years of your career, but now you’re interested in a position that involves more strategy and oversight: a management role.

All of the hands-on experience you’ve gained gives you insight into how those kinds of roles work, especially across teams. You can use that knowledge to streamline operations and educate owners or other team members in leadership roles about what those jobs really take and how teams can be better run. 

You’ll also have better insight into how you can retain talent and reduce staff turnover, improving the business’s bottom line. Any other work experience you have, from business management to customer service, will also apply to leadership positions you may be interested in.

Management roles and responsibilities might include the following (it will depend on which foodservice sector you’re in): 

  • Administrative duties: any paperwork or documentation necessary around licensing, payroll, employee records, staff scheduling, budgeting, taxes, and more – like scheduling services to remain compliant with health and food safety regulations (sanitation, appliance repairs, etc.) 

  • Staffing: determining staff requirements, plus interviewing, hiring, training (including any technology your business uses), and evaluating staff performance over time 

  • Inventory: ordering and maintaining everything necessary for your business, from ingredients to packaging, office supplies, equipment and more 

  • Compliance: managers are responsible for ensuring employees are compliant with health and food safety regulations 

  • Inspections: you’ll need to conduct regular inspections of all equipment, supplies, and workstations to ensure team compliance with regulations, plus cooperating with officials when they do their inspections 

If you’re strategic, detail-oriented and love to lead a team, a leadership role just might be the move for you.  

Finding what’s right for you

The foodservice industry is so much more than just a restaurant kitchen. If you don’t feel like you’re in the right sector–or the right role–for you, we hope you’ve learned enough and found the necessary tools to move into one that seems like a better fit. 

Once you assess the skills you have, the skills you need to make the move to where you’d like to be and figure out how to bridge that gap, you’ll be ready to take on the next challenge in your career. 

And let us know if we can help with any training you might need!

Sign up for Trust20's newsletter today!


  1. NPR: Despite A Revamped Focus On Real-Life Skills, 'Home Ec' Classes Fade Away

  2. AllRecipes: 9 Classic Home Ec Lessons Pro Chefs Still Use Today