Fast Food Service Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Fast Food StoreFast food service assistants provide and serve meals, snacks and drinks to customers. Their job involves welcoming customers, processing their orders efficiently, and using basic cooking techniques when preparing food.

They work in fast food establishments, which can be found in most High Streets, motorway service areas, stations, airports and shopping multiplexes. Typical duties include:

  • Inputting orders, often into computerised tills at a counter or drive-through booth.
  • Letting the fast food preparation area know when items are low.
  • Assembling orders, preparing drinks, and issuing condiments like sauces and dips.
  • Packing and wrapping food.
  • Accepting customer payments - by cash, cheque or credit card - and giving change.
  • Processing special offer vouchers.
  • Giving out promotional items, like toys or balloons.
  • Replenishing stock items like napkins and straws.
  • Clearing trays, wiping down tables and emptying bins.

Although service assistants work behind the counter most of the time, they may help to prepare food using basic cooking techniques, especially in smaller establishments. They may also make sure all the restaurant facilities are clean and tidy. Some may be responsible for cashing up their till and dealing with customer enquiries and complaints.

Fast food establishments that provide party functions may employ fast food service assistants to set up and oversee children's parties. This may involve taking bookings, supervising games, and co-ordinating a large order of food and drinks.

Experienced service assistants may take on additional supervisory duties, such as staff training, stocktaking, health and safety, and food hygiene and temperature checks.

Full-time fast food service assistants usually work between 37 and 40 hours a week over five shifts. They may work variable shift patterns as fast food outlets are open early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Some major fast food chains based in airports and motorway service stations are open all night. Part-time work and flexible split-shift arrangements are widely available.

The work environment can be noisy, busy and physically demanding. Standing behind a counter, sitting inside a drive-through booth for long periods, or lifting and moving heavy boxes of food items, are common.

Mild chemicals may be used to clean counters, tabletops and floors. Most fast food chains provide staff with a uniform, which may include non-slip protective shoes and hats.

The basic starting salary for a full-time fast food service assistant may be around £9,000 a year. Many larger outlets offer benefits such as staff discounts and bonus schemes after a set period of employment and ongoing training and development. Working shifts and overtime may also increase hourly rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Fast food establishments include eat-in and take-out franchises, selling food such as burgers, fried chicken and fish pieces, pizzas, Indian and Chinese food, French fries, salads and drinks. They can also be part of large coffee chains, or small independent outlets serving sandwiches, snacks and drinks.

Around 499,696 people work in restaurants across the UK, a large percentage in fast food service jobs. More than half of the workforce in hospitality services (56 per cent) works part time.

Jobs in fast food service are available throughout the UK, and most towns and cities have a selection of fast food establishments. Employment opportunities also exist in out-of-town shopping centres, airports, and transport interchanges. A large growth area is the provision of single products, such as coffee or health food snacks, and juice bars.

Turnover of staff tends to be relatively high, and 20 per cent of establishments in hospitality, travel, leisure and tourism in England report internal skills gaps. Vacancies appear frequently in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and within the fast food outlets themselves. Some companies may advertise vacancies on their websites.

Education and Training

There are no formal academic requirements to work as a fast food service assistant. Employers set their own entry requirements, but usually look for a good general education and pleasant personality.

At entry level, some employers may prefer some GCSE's/S grades. Basic literacy and numerical skills are helpful, especially the ability to do mental arithmetic. Many outlets value evidence of food and drink experience or customer service, such as a Saturday or holiday job.

Apprenticeships are available in catering, and some fast food outlets offer schemes to people working in food preparation areas. These can help new entrants decide which areas interest them most, while they learn and develop core service skills. The route and training structure will depend upon the type of food establishment.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Employers usually provide comprehensive training. Induction programmes at the start of employment often cover areas like health and safety, food safety, hygiene, and company policies. Ongoing training can include basic food preparation and customer service skills.

New employees usually work alongside experienced assistants, under guidance from a supervisor, team leader or manager.

Large fast food establishments may also encourage trainees to attend college. The most relevant NVQ/SVQ for this industry is Hospitality Quick Service at Level 1. They may also encourage employees to do other NVQ's/SVQ's, including:

- Food and Drink Service at Levels 1 and 2
- Food Preparation and Cooking at Levels 1 to 3
- Multi-Skilled Hospitality Services Levels 1 and 2
- Food Processing and Cooking at Level 2
- Customer Service Levels 2 and 3

The Hospitality Awarding Body (HAB) also offers a selection of Level 1 and 2 Vocationally Related Qualifications (VQRs), including an Introductory Certificate in Hospitality Customer Service.

Other relevant qualifications may include:

- Food safety qualifications
- A VQR in Professional Cookery

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A fast food service assistant needs:

  • To be able to work effectively as a part of the team.
  • To be able to work to specified standards of service.
  • To be friendly and approachable, with a polite and helpful manner.
  • Good communication skills.
  • To be confident and diplomatic with customers, even when they are difficult or rude.
  • To be accurate and thorough, even under pressure.
  • A smart and hygienic personal appearance.
  • Good mental arithmetic skills.
  • To be trustworthy, as they may be dealing with large amounts of cash.
  • To understand and follow company policies for health and safety and hygiene.
  • Stamina, in order to serve for long periods.

Your Long Term Prospects

Fast food service assistants with enthusiasm and experience can progress quickly to a team leader, supervisor, or store management position. Internal promotions are common.

Many of the large fast food outlets offer fast-track trainee management programmes to assistants who have demonstrated the right qualities.

Advanced level hospitality and customer service qualifications, including BTEC National Diploma in Hospitality Supervision, or a BTEC HNC in Hospitality Management, can aid progression to management-level jobs.

Self-employment is possible for people who wish to set up their own fast food outlet. There are also opportunities to work abroad with larger organisations.

Get Further Information

The Hospitality Awarding Body (HAB),
c/o City & Guilds, 1 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DD
Tel: 0870 060 2556 (calls charged at a national rate)
Website: www.hab.org.uk

Hotel & Catering International Management Association (HCIMA),
Trinity Court, 34 West Street, Sutton, Surrey SM1 1SH
Tel: 020 8661 4900
Website: www.hcima.org.uk

People 1st, 2nd Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 1LH
Tel: 01895 857000
Website: www.people1st.co.uk

Springboard UK Limited, 3 Denmark Street,
London WC2H 8LP
020 7497 8654
Website: www.springboarduk.org.uk

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