14 Pros and Cons of Working in a School Cafeteria

School Cafeteria

Working in a school cafeteria is hard work.

First off, you may need to be in the good physical condition as you will be preparing lunch for a couple of hundred kids, at the minimum.

The ingredients for the lunches that need to be prepared often come in industrial-sized packaging, such as extra-large cans of food or extremely large bags of mixes.

However, if you love to be around children and you enjoy cooking meals, this may be the ideal job for you.

Pros of Being a Cafeteria Worker

Being a cafeteria worker can be somewhat challenging, due to the physical demands of the job, but it can also be a very rewarding job if you enjoy preparing meals. 

1. Time Off

This is one of the biggest advantages of these positions, with the exception of certain positions.

For those individuals that work in a school district, there is the fact these employees get a lot of time off work for holidays such as Easter break, Thanksgiving break, and Christmas, in addition to the standard school summer, spring, and winter holidays. 

While most cafeteria employees are off during the school summer break, some schools have federal programs that fund meals during the summer break for children that come from families who experience economic hardship.

These programs are run during the summer.

It is not compulsory for cafeteria employees to work during this period if their contract only stipulates work during the actual school year.

However, if these employees want to make an extra buck or seven, they may volunteer to work during the summer break as well. 

2. Lunch is Provided for Staff

Depending on what time the position is scheduled to start, these employees also enjoy the benefit of having breakfast and lunch provided. 

This benefit is not only great for the cafeteria workers but also for the school/organization offering this benefit.

It results in higher levels of staff retention and a 67% job satisfaction rate among those individuals that receive this benefit. 

In terms of financial savings, receiving an average $10 meal a day can save an employee around $3,000 or more on food costs per year.

That is a huge saving and added benefit for the cafeteria employee. 

3. Employee Benefits

Apart from the fact that these employees can expect to work an average of about 20 hours per week at the lower end of the scheduling scale, there are a plethora of other employee benefits associated with these positions.

For example, whether full-time or part-time, all cafeteria employees are entitled to health, vision, and dental benefits.

In addition, there are certain states, like the state of Texas, where employees are eligible to receive a pension for life due to a system like the Teacher Retirement System of Texas where certain employees pay into the TRS.

Employees contribute 6.4% of their income into their pension fund toward future retirement. 

Furthermore, these employees have the option available to them, to contribute to two additional retirement accounts (pre-tax) such as the 457 and the 403b.

4. Not Required to Work Overtime, Evenings, or Weekends

Many companies experience the pressure of having to meet urgent deadlines which may require additional hours spent at work.

Some jobs require employees to work on weekends or in the evenings, such as in the hospitality industry.

And, while cafeteria workers may need to meet certain, less stringent deadlines, such as making sure the food is ready on time, there is no requirement to work overtime, evenings, or weekends.

In fact, most cafeteria employees are only required to work up to 16.15 p.m or 16.45 p.m at the latest in the day, which means, that these individuals come off just slightly earlier than the average office employee. 

5. A Sense of Purpose

A great thing about serving food to children is that you know you are feeding the future generations. I

t gives an amazing sense of purpose and can be a very fulfilling job as you know that you are currently making a difference in a child’s life. 

As a cafeteria worker, you are required to monitor what the kids eat and what they avoid.

This helps to modify the food items on the list to ensure that the children receive proper nutrition by eating food that they love. 

6. Fun

There is a lot less stress associated with this job than, for example, an office job.

Most employees on review sites claim that this is probably one of the most fun jobs there are. 

A lot of your time is spent getting to know the different kids at the school, their food preferences, their personalities, and their constant joke-telling.

This is a great atmosphere and a working environment that is relatively easy to master, apart from the physical labor, and safe workspace.

7. Learning New Skills

As a cafeteria worker, you easily pick up on cooking methods and techniques being used in the cafeteria that you can apply when cooking at home for your family.

You may even learn a thing or six about how to prepare food for a large crowd as well as some interesting and fun recipes. 

Cons of Being a Cafeteria Worker

Just as there are many benefits associated with these positions, there are also a few disadvantages to working as a cafeteria employee.

1. Pay

Depending on the school, school district, and position, the pay for a cafeteria worker is not great.

To say the least, you certainly will not become a millionaire doing it. 

The pay is also determined by other factors, such as the state and city that the school is situated in, whether it is a state school or a private school, as well as the details of the contract.

Essentially, the average pay of a cafeteria worker is around $9 to $16 dollars per hour. 

2. Hard Work

School cafeteria employees often work with extra-large food containers such as cans, bags, or sauce packages which come in industrial sizes.

These employees prepare food for large groups of children.

In addition, these employees use larger cooking utensils and cooking equipment which need to be carried from one side of the kitchen to the other during the cooking process.

This requires that these employees be in, at the very minimum, fairly good physical shape. 

3. Rigorous Cleaning Schedule

Serving food is not their only job.

Most cafeteria staff are required to give the kitchen a good scrub down after the last meal of the day is served.

This is to ensure that the kitchen is up to date and compliant with the latest international health and safety standards.

Food-borne illnesses develop quickly and require that the kitchen be spotless before preparing any food.

This means that the kitchen receives a rigorous cleaning after each shift and the kitchen surfaces are sanitized several times a day during the shift.

4. You Are Not in Charge of Designing The Menu

This goes hand-in-hand with job satisfaction.

While this role does enjoy a high level of job satisfaction, it does, however, not pertain to this part of the job. 

The cafeteria employees may make contributions to the design of the menu by advising which foods the kids are more fond of and which foods are a waste to serve.

The actual design of the menu is left to the lunch planner of the school or district.

This may be a bit frustrating for some employees who feel that they may have a better understanding as to what the children enjoy eating and whatnot. 

5. Very Little Room for Advancement

This job is a very stagnant job with little to no prospect of movement. 

School cafeteria employees have very little room to move up or down.

Apart from the cooking skills, organization skills, and other related skills that they do acquire while doing this job, they may feel stuck in their position very quickly.

This may lead to frustration and eventually job dissatisfaction.

Ideally, this position is suited to older men and women who have little to no desire to climb the corporate ladder and may only be looking to make some extra money to support themselves. 

6. Negative View

Many individuals have a stigmatized, negative view of cafeteria workers.

These employees often don’t get the respect that they deserve.

In addition, there are a few negative stereotypes associated with this job which may make the experience of working as a cafeteria worker less positive in some scenarios. 

7. Expected to Work Magic

It is not all sunshine and roses.

There are certain instances where you may have fewer resources but more things that you need to achieve with these diminished resources.

For example, a school may inform the cafeteria workers that there are an additional 100 students joining the school but there is no additional time allocated to get the students through the lunch line.

Or, food should be reserved and needs to be made to look appealing again.

There are several other challenges that face these employees and they are required to simply make it work.

Pros and Cons of Working in a School Cafeteria – Summary Table

Pros of Being a Cafeteria WorkerCons of Being a Cafeteria Worker
1. Time Off1. Pay
2. Lunch is Provided for Staff2. Hard Work
3. Employee Benefits3. Rigorous Cleaning Schedule
4. Not Required to Work Overtime, Evenings, or Weekends4. You Are Not in Charge of Designing The Menu
5. A Sense of Purpose5. Very Little Room for Advancement
6. Fun6. Negative View
7. Learning New Skills7. Expected to Work Magic

Should You Become a Cafeteria Worker?

Becoming a cafeteria employee depends on what it is that you hope to achieve. 

This may not be the ideal job for younger employees looking to start out their working careers.

However, if you simply want to supplement another income, have no desire to get promoted or climb the corporate ladder, or are simply looking for something to do while in retirement, this may be a very good fit for you. 

Jamie Willis