You might choose a waiter, waitress or server position as a primary career, a second job to help make ends meet or for extra money to fund personal goals, such as education or travel. The duties and responsibilities of a waiter differ, depending on the type of dining environment. Waiter and waitress incomes vary, but almost all server positions give you an opportunity to learn valuable skills, oftentimes in a fun working environment.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Waiter
The duties and responsibilities of a waiter typically begin before the restaurant opens. Waitresses often stock areas where servers prepare drinks, store condiments and stage eating utensils. Wait-staff set tables and inspect the dining area for cleanliness, proper lighting, tripping hazards and room temperature. Waiters often help stock bar areas with items such as drink garnishes and ice. Other duties might include folding napkins, polishing silverware and glassware, lighting fires in fireplaces and starting heaters in outdoor dining areas.
During operating hours, a waitress greets diners as they arrive at their tables, presents daily specials, makes food and wine recommendations, and takes food and drink orders. The waiter submits food orders to kitchen staff and cocktail orders to bartenders. Once prepared, the server delivers food and drinks to the customers’ tables. Throughout the meal, the waitress clears plates and replenishes drinks. When diners are ready to leave, the server prepares and delivers the bill, and then processes their credit card or cash payments.
After the restaurant closes, waiters balance their customers’ orders with the till, running credit card reports in the point-of-sale system and submitting cash payments to management. They also might restock service areas or clean the dining rooms.
Education, Skills and Physical Requirements
Most restaurants prefer waiters who have a high school diploma or GED. Servers also need basic computer skills to operate point-of-sale systems used to submit customer orders and print bills. You must have strong interpersonal skills and a pleasant personality when dealing with guests.
A waiter’s job requires a certain level of mental gymnastics. You must retain loads of information for short periods, such as the individual orders for each customer. But you also must memorize and retain ingredients of all dishes, so you can make recommendations to diners with special needs, such as food allergies or other medical issues.
As a waiter, expect physical demands. You must work on your feet for several hours without sitting, and carry heavy trays of dishes – often weighing 10 to 20 pounds. Carrying drink trays, often loaded with numerous drinks of different sizes, requires good balance.
The pace of a wait-staff job can vary, depending on the dining style. In family-style restaurants, you might serve six or more tables at one time, to customers who eat and leave quickly. In a fine dining restaurant, you might serve three or four tables at one time, but you must provide a higher level of service, delivering multiple meal courses, clearing plates and refreshing drinks. Servers at fine dining eateries must have the ability to make wine pairing recommendations and discuss the origin of food items such as seafood, meats and imported ingredients.
Wages, Work Shifts and Employment Outlook
About 50 percent of servers work part time, often varying shifts between breakfast, lunch and dinner. A waiter position might require you to work nights, weekends and holidays. Restaurants employ more than 80 percent of waiters, followed by hotels, arts and entertainment venues, and catering companies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average waiter made around $10 per hour in 2017. Top earners made nearly $20 per hour, while servers at the bottom of the scale brought home just over $8 per hour. By federal law, a waitress must earn at least $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage, in direct wages or a combination of wages and tips. Some states allow employers to pay servers hourly wages as low as $2.13 per hour in direct wages, relying on customer tips to make up the balance. You can find detailed information about each state’s minimum direct wage requirements for tipped employees at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division website.
The income you earn in a waiter position often depends on the type of dining environment, as well as its location. In major cities and tourist destinations, waiters at high-end restaurants often make $200 or more in tips during a single shift. However, servers in small towns or cities might make $10 to $20 per shift.
Advantages of Waiter Positions
Flexibility is a primary advantage of working as a waiter. College students can work as servers to pay for school and living expenses. Some high school teachers earn extra income as waiters during summer months, and parents often work nights and weekends as servers to support their families. Travel buffs often turn to waiter jobs to explore the nation’s most beautiful places, working at a national park during summer or a ski lodge during winter, for example. The BLS expects waiter positions to increase by 7 percent through 2026.