What Does a Waiter or Waitress Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A waitress serves dessert to a customer.
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Servers, more commonly referred to as waiters and waitresses, are the public face of a restaurant. They greet customers, and they might even recommend particular dishes. Of course, the server also takes their orders and brings them their food.

Approximately 2.6 million people were employed in this occupation in 2016.

Waiter/Waitress Duties & Responsibilities

The job responsibilities of a waiter or waitress can be diverse to the point where no two shifts are exactly the same. Some tasks are pretty common, however, and they're usually a part of every workday.

  • Set up dining areas when working an opening shift.
  • Seat customers or greet them at their tables, offering water and possibly cocktails, and verifying the ages of any possible underage drinkers.
  • Explain the menu, describe any specials, and answer questions about the menu.
  • Take orders and deliver the orders to the kitchen staff.
  • Garnish plates and cocktails if required.
  • Deliver food and drinks to the customers' tables.
  • Clear plates and utensils as dishes and entrees are finished.
  • Prepare itemized checks and accept payment.

    Waiter/Waitress Salary

    A server's earnings typically consist of a combination of wages and tips from customers.

    • Median Annual Salary: $20,080 ($9.65/hour)
    • Top 10% Annual Salary: $40,206 ($19.33/hour)
    • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $17.201 ($8.27/hour)

    Many restaurants pay workers only the federal minimum wage for tipped employees—defined as those who earn at least $30 per month from customers' tips. This is not the same minimum wage as that for other workers. It can be as little as $2.13 per hour, but the combined tips and wages must be at least $7.25 an hour as of 2019. Some states require employers to pay higher wages.

    Education, Training & Certification

    You don't need a formal education to get a job as a server. Restaurants usually provide on-the-job training that lasts for a few weeks.

    • Training: Some restaurants require new hires to participate in classroom training to learn proper serving techniques. Some states mandate additional formal training for jobs that involve serving alcohol, and for safe food-handling.
    • Experience: Servers with a background in the industry are more in demand than those coming in cold. Prior experience in any food- or drink-related career can be valuable, even if it's fast food or in a cafeteria-type setting.

    Waiter/Waitress Skills & Competencies

    Waiters and waitresses should be strong in several skills and attributes.

    • Appearance: As far as your customers are concerned, you are your restaurant, so maintaining a professional and well-groomed appearance is vital. Your tips might even depend on it.
    • Communication skills: Servers need excellent active listening and verbal communication skills. You must be able to understand your customer's questions and concerns and clearly convey information to them.
    • Interpersonal skills: This set of skills allows you to pick up customers' non-verbal cues and coordinate your actions with other restaurant workers.
    • Customer service skills: Customers should leave a dining establishment feeling satisfied with both the food and service they received. You have little control over the former, but you can influence the latter.
    • Ability to work as a team: Your customers' dining experience will be the result of the efforts of several employees. If one of you drops the ball, another will have to catch it, ideally without complaint—or at least save the complaining until the customer is gone.

    Job Outlook

    Employment is expected to grow at an average pace with all other occupations at about 7% through 2026. Job prospects are expected to be good because of the high turnover in this field, and because people never seem to tire of dining out. As people quit their jobs and move onto other things, restaurants will always need new hires to fill these openings.

    Work Environment

    Full-service restaurants employ the majority of waiters and waitresses. The more upscale of these restaurants often require their staffs to wear uniforms.

    You'll spend the vast majority of time on your feet because this is a physically demanding job. You'll have to carry heavy trays, and move quickly but certainly not clumsily. A great deal of interaction with others is required, both with staff and with customers.

    Work Schedule

    About half those employed as servers worked just part-time in 2016, but the hours can be erratic. Your work schedule might include early mornings, evenings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. Depending on your location, the work can be seasonal, such as if you work in or near a ski resort. You might work steady shifts for a while, then be out of work for a period of time while the calendar rolls around again.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Several other jobs are available in the food service industry.