Server

Job Description

Waitress
A waitress serves dessert to a customer. Geri Lavrov/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

A server, also known as a waiter or waitress, is the public face of a restaurant. He or she greets customers, tells them what the daily specials are, answers questions and may even recommend particular dishes. Of course, the server also takes their orders and brings them their food! Finally, he or she tallies up and delivers the bill and may take payments.

Quick Facts

  • Servers earned a median annual salary of $18,730 or $9.01 per hour in 2014. A server's earnings are typically made up of a combination of wages from one's employer and tips from customers.
  • In 2012, approximately 2,362,000 people were employed in this occupation.
  • About half of the jobs were part-time.
  • Full-service restaurants employ the majority of waiters and waitresses.
  • Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024. In spite of this, job prospects are expected to be good because of high turnover in this field. As people quit their jobs and move onto other things, restaurants will hire new servers to fill these openings.

How to Become a Server

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. Some 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. 

Because they don't typically require formal training, waiter and waitress jobs often appeal to high school students.

Some establishments will hire servers who are at least 14 years old, but only if they don't have to serve alcohol. Most states don't allow anyone under 18 to do that, and some states have an even higher minimum age.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

If you want to be a server, you should have the following skills:

  • 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.

The  Truth About Being a Server

  • This is a physically demanding job. You will have to carry heavy trays and spend many hours on your feet.
  • Many restaurants pay workers only the minimum wage for tipped employees (workers who make at least $30 per month from customers' tips). It can be as little as  $2.13 per hour, the Federal Minimum Hourly Wage for Tipped Employees, although some states require employers to pay higher wages.
  • Some restaurants are beginning to move toward an anti-tipping policy and will instead pay servers higher wages.
  • Your work schedule may include early mornings, evenings, weekends and holidays.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Organized with a great attention for details"
  • "Committed & passionate about being in the service industry"
  • "Must be upbeat, outgoing and positive"
  • "100% commitment to teamwork approach"
  • "Food safety knowledge"
  • "Great attitude and a love for people"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 Description

Median Hourly

Wage (2014)

Minimum Required Education/Training
Short Order CookCooks food that doesn't take long to prepare$9.71On-the-job training
Fast Food WorkerTakes and fills customers' orders for food and beverages$8.85On-the-job training
BartenderPrepares and serves alcoholic beverages$9.16On-the-job training or vocational school classes
BaristaPrepares and serves specialty coffee$9.01On-the-job training

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited January 10, 2015).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited January 10, 2015).

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