Being a food server is not an easy job. The work can be physically demanding. You are on your feet for long shifts, often rushing from table to table, sometimes carrying heavy trays of food. Working as a server requires diplomacy, a good memory, and the ability to interact with a wide variety of personalities, both as customers and coworkers.
That said, food service can be rewarding and even fun. It can also be lucrative, depending on the clientele. Some servers rely primarily on minimum wage checks. Others take home thousands in tips each month. Whether you work at a high-end fine dining establishment, or a local diner, the skills listed below are fairly universal. Apply them well, and you will boost your earning potential wherever you work.
What Kind of Skills Do Food Servers Need?
While engaging customers with a pleasant attitude, you will need to be able to take orders, remember preferences, move quickly, and manage an entire room of diners. You are a key piece of the dining experience, and if you give customers the impression that they do not matter, they may take it personally.
Some places might forgive a server for being slow if they have excellent people skills. Most employers prefer both.
Types of Food Server Skills
In general, the required skill set for food servers is fairly consistent. The top skills listed below can be improved with practice.
Food servers must be cheerful and friendly, no matter how stressed, tired, or frustrated you may be. You may be responsible for fifteen tables at once. But your customers should feel that you care for them individually. Their dining experience depends on you staying positive and friendly. Likewise, kitchens can be stressful and tense.
A demanding waiter can have a negative effect on the mood of the kitchen staff. Being pleasant and enjoyable to be around are important qualities in both the front and back of the house.
- Stress Tolerance
As a food server, you need to be able to communicate effectively and clearly, both with customers and with colleagues. You need to be able to listen attentively, understand customer concerns, and relay them to the cooks or management effectively. You may also need to memorize aspects of the menu or the restaurant's history and convey those details to customers.
- Active Listening
- Verbal Communication
- Emotional Intelligence
- Note Taking
Attention to Detail
Some orders are complicated. You’ll need to remember diners’ requirements, from food allergies to spice or garnish preferences. If you forget a detail, like leaving off a condiment or including croutons when a customer has a gluten allergy, you'll upset, disappoint, and possibly harm them.
Paying attention to the details of orders is an important part of your job and one that matters to the overall quality of your work.
- Active Listening
- Meal Ingredients
- Intimate Knowledge of Menu Items
Shifts can be long and tough on your feet. You need to have significant energy reserves, or the shifts will just drag painfully for you. Naturally, high-energy people tend to thrive in food service.
- Physical Endurance
Your manager will not always be around to help you deal with upset customers. You have to be able to problem solve on the spot. If you cannot fix the problem, you still must make the customer feel heard and understood. Whether it's taking off the cost of a meal or offering a free dessert, you need to be creative to save the situation.
- Decision Making
- Problem Sensitivity
- Logical Thinking
As a food server, you'll be surrounded by people and their demands. It's easy to get distracted by a loud or persistent customer. Conversely, an interesting conversation with a co-worker or a particularly friendly patron might lead you to neglect your work.
Communicating with co-workers, being friendly with patrons, and attending to high-priority demands are all part of your job, but you have to be able to balance these conflicting priorities to give good service. Your ability to keep yourself focused and on task is critical to your success as a food server.
- Circumstantial Awareness
More Food Server Skills
- Customer Service
- Bar Tending
- Deliver Orders
- Bus Tables
- Money Handling
- Basic Math
- Personal Ethics
- Fast Learning
- Quality Awareness
- Desire to Exceed Expectations
- Central Reservations Systems (CRS)
- Payment Processing
- Taking Reservations
How to Make Your Skills Standout
ADD RELEVANT SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME: Restaurants may accept resumes from applicants for food service positions, but many use application forms instead. In either case, be sure to emphasize those skills your prospective employer is looking for.
HIGHLIGHT SKILLS IN YOUR COVER LETTER: It is not likely that you will be asked to provide a cover letter for a food serving job. If you are, it would be beneficial to mention the extent of your experience using some of the skills listed above.
USE SKILL WORDS IN YOUR JOB INTERVIEW: Employers will ask you questions prompting you to share specific scenarios where you used skills you’ve outlined in your resume and application.