Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.

Duties

Waiters and waitresses typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, present menus, and explain daily specials to customers
  • Answer questions related to the menu and offer item suggestions
  • Take food and beverage orders from customers
  • Relay food and beverage orders to the kitchen staff
  • Prepare drinks and food garnishes
  • Carry trays of food or drinks from the kitchen to the dining tables
  • Remove dirty dishes and glasses, and clean tables after customers finish meals
  • Prepare itemized checks and take payments from customers
  • Set up dining areas, refill condiments, and stock service areas

Waiters and waitresses, also called servers, are responsible for ensuring that customers have a satisfying dining experience. The specific duties of servers vary with the establishment in which they work.

In casual-dining restaurants that offer simple menu items, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches, servers provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. In fine-dining restaurants, where more complicated meals are typically prepared and served over several courses, waiters and waitresses emphasize personal, attentive treatment at a more leisurely pace. For example, they may offer a wine recommendation with certain foods.

Servers may meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss the menu or specials, review ingredients for potential food allergies, or talk about any food safety concerns. They also discuss coordination between the kitchen and the dining room and review any customer service issues from the previous day or shift.

In establishments where alcohol is served, waiters and waitresses verify the age of customers and ensure that they meet legal requirements for the purchase of alcohol.

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Work Environment

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.6 million jobs in 2018. The largest employers of waiters and waitresses were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places                     81%
Traveler accommodation 6
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 4

Waiters and waitresses are on their feet most of the time and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and drinks. The work can be hectic and fast-paced. During busy dining periods, they may be under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. They must be able to work well as a team with kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Because waiters and waitresses are the front line of customer service in food-service and drinking establishments, appearance is important. Those who work in fine-dining and upscale restaurants may be required to wear uniforms.

Work Schedules

Many waiters and waitresses work part time. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employ the vast majority of waiters and waitresses.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

Education and Training

Most waiters and waitresses learn through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education or previous work experience is required to enter the occupation.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years of age, but some states require servers to be older. Waiters and waitresses who serve alcohol must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Education

No formal education is required to become a waiter or waitress.

Training

Most waiters and waitresses learn through short-term on-the-job-training, usually lasting a few weeks. Trainees typically work with an experienced waiter or waitress, who teaches them basic serving techniques.

Some full-service restaurants provide new employees with some form of classroom training in combination with periods of on-the-job work experience. These training programs communicate the operating philosophy of the restaurant, help new servers establish a rapport with other staff, teach serving techniques, and instill a desire to work as a team. They also discuss customer service situations and the proper ways to handle unpleasant circumstances or unruly customers.

Training for waiters and waitresses in establishments that serve alcohol typically involves learning state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Some states, counties, and cities mandate the training, which typically lasts a few hours and can be taken online or in-house.

Some states may require that any staff who handle food need to take training related to the safe handling of food.

Personality and Interests

Waiter and waitresses typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a waiter and waitress, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Waiter and waitresses should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen carefully to customers’ specific requests, ask any questions, and relay the information to the kitchen staff, so that orders are prepared to the customers’ satisfaction.

Customer-service skills. Waiters and waitresses spend most of their work time serving customers. They should be friendly and polite and be able to develop a rapport with customers.

Detail oriented. Waiters and waitresses must keep customers’ orders straight. They must be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to customers.

Interpersonal skills. Waiters and waitresses must be courteous, tactful, and attentive as they deal with customers in all circumstances. For example, they must show an understanding of customers’ complaints and help resolve any issues that arise.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses spend hours on their feet carrying heavy trays, dishes, and drinks.

Pay

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $11.00 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.37, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $20.65.

In May 2019, the median hourly wages for waiters and waitresses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Traveler accommodation $11.72
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 11.20
Restaurants and other eating places                                  10.73

Many waiters and waitresses get their earnings from a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. Earnings vary greatly with the type of establishment and locality. For example, tips are generally much higher in upscale restaurants in major metropolitan areas and resorts.

Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009), which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

According to the FLSA, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with a list of minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Some employers may provide meals and furnish uniforms, but other employers may deduct the cost from wages.

Many waiters and waitresses work part time. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employ the vast majority of waiters and waitresses.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

Job Outlook

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the population grows and more people dine out, many new restaurants are expected to open. Many establishments, particularly full-service restaurants, will continue to use waiters and waitresses to serve food and beverages and provide customer service.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for waiters and waitresses are expected to be very good, primarily because of the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year. There should be competition for jobs at upscale establishments, however, as potential earnings from tips are greater than at other restaurants and the number of job applicants usually exceeds the number of job openings.

For More Information

For more information on careers as a waiter or waitress, visit

National Restaurant Association

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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