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The media portrays school cafeteria workers in an unflattering light; overweight women with hair nets who are wearing support stockings. In actuality, school food service workers come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. There are many different reasons that someone may choose to work in a school cafeteria. Some people like the schedule—they can have the same work schedule as their children's school schedule, with holidays, weekends, and summers off. Others take pride in feeding healthy meals to the next generation. It's more than a job, it's a career for many people, and it's not unusual to find someone with 20 or even 30 years of service beyond the counter of a school cafeteria.
Director of Food Services
Larger school systems might have a Director of Food Services. The position requires keeping an eye on the cafeterias in all the schools in the system. Some of their responsibilities include setting meal prices, hiring managers for individual cafeterias, and supervising to make sure that the cafeterias are running smoothly.
The cafeteria manager oversees everything that happens within an individual school. Duties may include planning menus, ordering food and products, hiring and managing staff, and filing paperwork. The manager will also fill in where necessary, and do whatever it takes to keep things running smoothly—cook, clean, serve, whatever. Larger schools might also have an assistant manager, whose duties are similar to those of the manager. The assistant manager will also be trained to run things if the manager is absent due to sick leave or vacation.
A dietician might work for an individual school, or answer to the director of food services for a school district. Making sure that the food served is healthy, a dietician might supervise cooking the meals, help with planning menus, and make sure that a balanced diet is served with each meal. The manager might also serve as the dietician.
The meals need to be made, and that's where the cooks come in. A cook will probably also serve in other roles. Most cafeterias have several cooks. The cooks arrive early. Not only do they cook hot meals, they assemble sandwiches, salads, and sometimes even desserts.
The server stands behind the counter and serves the food. They place the food on the trays for the children, and sometimes offer nutritional advice. They check the temperatures of hot and cold foods, making sure that the food stays within Health Department guidelines. They restock milk, juice, and other items as needed. Many servers are also cooks.
Most schools have cashiers to take the money for the food. Cashiers work in a fast-paced environment, trying to keep the lines moving. They may also help cook, and help out wherever needed between serving times.
In numerous school systems, cleaning of the kitchen is handled by the cafeteria staff. Cleaning includes washing dishes, sterilizing surfaces, mopping floors, and putting things away at the end of the day. School cafeterias need to meet the guidelines of the Department of Health, and it's up to the staff to meet or exceed those standards.
Paula Brown has been a writer for over 23 years. She is the author of the Dream Wanderers series, and has co-authored the Inside Scoop Series on Walt Disney World. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in theater from New England College in Henniker, NH.