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What you need to know about the ServSafe Exams

Student taking the ServSafe® Food and Alcohol Safety Exams.

The ServSafe exams are a group of five tests, each of which can lead to certification in a specific part of the food service industry. There are tests for Food Service Handling, Food Service Manager, and Responsible Alcohol Service (Primary and Advanced). A fourth test, ServSafe Allergens, is currently only required in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, though will likely be picked up by other states in the near future. The newest test, ServSafe Workplace, is an online-only course without a testing component that deals with workplace harassment and bias.

The ServSafe program is administered by the National Restaurant Association, which makes training and testing materials available. ServSafe certification is accepted nationwide in the United States. The test is available in a number of languages, besides English, and is given in either paper or computer versions. While coursework and testing can both be done online, certain tests require a proctor, which means even the online versions must be completed in a testing center.

What are the costs?

Costs for the online course and exam are listed as:

Food Handler—$15

Manager—$152.95, plus a $36 exam voucher

Alcohol Safety—$30


Workplace—$22 (employee), $30 (manager) Note: this is for the course and certificate only, there is no exam given

Retests have additional costs. For more details, see the ServSafe website. There may be different fees for locally offered courses and exams. Retests will require additional fees that seem to be less than the original expense, such as $18 for the Alcohol retest.

What should I bring?

Items needed, or allowed, at a ServSafe exam vary by the type and format of the exam, but a photo ID is generally required. For the paper version of any ServSafe exam, you also need a few sharpened #2 pencils. If you are taking an exam in English, but English is not your primary language, you may be allowed to bring a bilingual dictionary to the exam site. Contact your instructor or proctor for specific regulations. Generally, no other items are permitted in the exam room, including purses, bags, or any type of electronic equipment, including cell phones.

What kind of job can I get?

An employee in food service may be involved in the cooking process or participate in various other capacities, including preparing cold food and serving beverages. According to the National Occupational Research Agenda, there are presently over 9 million food service employees in the United States. Food service businesses range from full service restaurants to schools and health facilities, such as nursing homes. Each year, a large number of young people get their first job as a food service worker. Many food service employers require their food and alcohol service workers to have ServSafe certification.

Am I eligible?

The ServSafe courses and exams have no prerequisite, although course completion may be required for exams in some jurisdictions. Course completion is required for access to the online exam. An online or in-person training program may be required by a state or locality before a local exam. Check your local and state requirements for ServSafe exams on the official ServSafe website here.

Retesting: You may retest once with no waiting period. After that, you must wait 60 days before retesting a second time. During one year, you may take the same ServSafe test up to four times.

Why does it matter?

Passing a ServSafe exam may determine your ability to be hired in a food or alcohol service capacity. Additional certification in managing food and/or alcohol service may then enable you to acquire advanced positions within the company. Certification in several areas can certainly expand your employment possibilities in the food service field. Once you acquire any ServSafe certification, it will be good for 5 years.

What salary can I expect?

Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2018 shows that the average hourly wage for a food service employee is $10.45/hour, but that this can reach nearly $14.00/hour for certain positions. Some food service positions also include a significant income from customer tips, which is only limited by the employee’s dedication to good service. The job outlook through 2028 is expected to be “much faster than average” with an expected industry growth of around 14%.

When is it available?

Both ServSafe coursework and exams are available in person and online. You are allowed to choose either option for the two parts of this process in any combination. Note that online exams for the Food Handler and Alcohol/Primary do not require a proctor. All other exams, whether print or online, do require a proctor and would need to be taken at a test center. To find an instructor/proctor in your area, check out out this page from the official ServSafe website.

Currently the online program is not guaranteed to work with a Mac computer. Check updates on the official ServSafe website for more information about this.

Retesting: You may retest once with no waiting period. After that, you must wait 60 days before retesting a second time. During one year, you may take the same ServSafe test up to four times.

What are some Tips & Tricks

After you register for a local ServSafe course, you will probably receive study materials from your testing agency or an individual. Read these materials and take notes while doing so, before you attend your training sessions. This will help you get the most out of the instruction.

You may answer the questions on a ServSafe exam in any order and you may go back to previous questions to answer them or change your answer. Furthermore, you will be given a chance to check over your answers on the entire test before you either turn in your test booklet or submit your exam online.

Answer every single question on the exams, as there is no penalty for guessing.

If you are taking a paper version of a ServSafe exam, be sure to fill in the answer bubbles completely. Do not simply mark them with an “X” or a “/” mark. Also, be very careful to fill in the bubble that corresponds to your answer choice, especially if the bubbles are to the side of the lettered choices on the answer sheet.

Even if your state or locality does not require course completion before taking this exam, it is highly recommended that you take time to study thoroughly for this test. It has recently been revamped and covers much more material than older versions of the test. Questions can be very specific and require you to know terms that may not be familiar to you, such as the names of specific bacteria and the exact temperatures needed to maintain food safety.

How much time is allowed?

The online course requires 8 hours to 10 hours for the Manager test, 4 hours for the Alcohol Safety test, 1.5 hours to 2 hours for the Food Handler test, and 90 minutes for the Allergen test. It is recommended that any course be completed in 1 hour sessions and that the total length for the longer courses not exceed 3 weeks. It is important to leave at least 2 days between the completion of the course and the exam day to allow study time. Times allotted for the exams are: Manager, 2 hours (timed); Alcohol, 2 hours (untimed); and Food Handler, about 1.5 hours (untimed).

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