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Lots of college kids and young 20-somethings work in restaurants while they're pursuing degrees or figuring out what to do with their lives. But when you're considering restaurant work as your permanent occupation, you might want to advance to a position of authority. One such position, the head waiter, is typically responsible for the smooth flow of a restaurant and overseeing other wait staff. If that's the job you want, a good dose of experience -- mixed with special training -- is the surest path to getting there.
Pursue a degree in hospitality management, restaurant management, culinary arts, hotel administration, tourism or another hospitality-related discipline. While a degree is not always required for getting hired as a head waiter, it certainly doesn't hurt your chances. If a four-year or two-year degree is out of reach, consider other options that don't take as much time. One option is to train to be a wine expert, or sommelier, which you can complete in less than two months. Another is to enroll in a food and beverage training course that lasts a few days. Taking the time to get extra training in the foodservice industry shows you're committed to moving up the ranks.
Start at the bottom. Whether or not you have training or experience, a common way to move up the ranks to head waiter is to start as a waiter, host, bartender or even a dishwasher at a restaurant that employs a large staff. Restaurants are often a revolving door, meaning people are coming and going all the time. Working in any position within the restaurant means you'll gain experience and knowledge about the industry, and you'll be able to pursue advancement as the opportunity arises. Head waiters often work in fine dining or more upscale establishments, but if your current restaurant doesn't have a head waiter, aim for a manager role, which is the equivalent in other restaurants. Having management experience will improve your chances of getting that head waiter job.
Look for opportunities to work in fine dining. If you're currently working as a manager at a burger joint, that might not serve you well when you go to apply for a head waiter position at an upscale establishment. Break into fine dining by pursuing work at temporary agencies that provide staff for hotels, or check with your local conference center about working as a banquet server. Also, talk to local caterers or event coordinators who may need part-time servers.
Let your bosses know you're aiming for the position of head waiter. No matter what job you're currently doing, your manager might not recognize your desire to advance until you tell her. Let her know of your ambitions during your next employee review, and ask what steps you can take to help you gain the skills and qualities you need to qualify for the head waiter position. Whatever advice she gives, try to follow it to give yourself the best chance possible of getting hired.
Present a professional job application packet that outlines your skills, training and education. Like other management jobs, you need to take the position of head waiter seriously and tailor your resume to the needs and desires of the employer. Research the position and the company to try to find out what the hiring managers seek in the ideal candidate. Next, draft a cover letter that speaks directly to what the hiring managers want and discusses how you meet that profile. If you get an interview, prepare to talk about your work experience and how you'll handle the needs of the restaurant staff that would work under you.
Many employers require you to have at least a high school diploma to work in a management role. Any college education you have will make your application look even more favorable.
- Many employers require you to have at least a high school diploma to work in a management role. Any college education you have will make your application look even more favorable.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.
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