Waiters and Waitresses

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Waiters and Waitresses Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Waiters and Waitresses

Waiters and waitresses typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, present menus, and explain daily specials to customers
  • Answer questions related to menu
  • 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 prepared and are often served over several courses, waiters and waitresses emphasize personal, attentive treatment at a more leisurely pace. For example, they may suggest a beverage choice such as a wine recommendation with certain foods.

Waiters and waitresses 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.

Work Environment for Waiters and Waitresses[About this section] [To Top]

Waiters and waitresses hold about 2.5 million jobs. About 78 percent work in full-service restaurants—establishments that provide food service to customers who are served while seated and pay after eating.

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 are 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, including ties or aprons, which are typically provided by their employer.

Waiter and Waitress Work Schedules

About 1 in 2 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 about 78 percent of all waiters and waitresses.

In resorts that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses might work for only a few months each year.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Waiters and Waitresses near you!

Most waiter and waitress jobs are entry level, and workers 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.

Waiter and Waitress Education

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

Waiter and Waitress Training

Most waiters and waitresses learn their skills 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 that alternates 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.

Important Qualities for Waiters and Waitresses

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen carefully to customers’ specific requests, ask 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 record customers’ orders accurately. They need be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to the correct customers.

Interpersonal skills. Waiters and waitresses should be courteous, tactful, and attentive as they deal with customers in all circumstances to resolve any issues that arise.

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

Waiter and Waitress Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses is $9.25. 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 $8.08, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.14.

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, 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 minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Many employers provide meals and furnish uniforms, but some may deduct the cost from wages.

About 1 in 2 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 about 78 percent of all waiters and waitresses.

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

Job Outlook for Waiters and Waitresses[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 3 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

As the population grows and more people dine out, 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.

Technology-driven payment and ordering systems increasingly are being used in some food service establishments, including some restaurants. In these places, waiters and waitresses may mostly serve food or drinks, because customers can order and pay for food using electronic devices, such as tabletop tablets, phones, or other devices.

Waiters and Waitresses Job Prospects

Job opportunities for waiters and waitresses are expected to be very good, primarily because of the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year.

Candidates with previous work experience and excellent customer-service skills will have the best job opportunities in upscale restaurants. Strong competition at these establishments is expected, as potential earnings from tips are greater than at other restaurants and the number of job applicants usually exceeds the number of job openings.

Employment projections data for Waiters and Waitresses, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Waiters and waitresses 2,465,100 2,534,000 3 68,900

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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