Waiters and Waitresses

Waiters and waitresses work in restaurants and other food-service establishments, taking customer orders and serving food and drinks.


The duties of waiters and waitresses include:

  • Welcoming customers, handing out menus, and explaining daily specials
  • Recommending menu items, and answering menu-related questions
  • Taking the customers' orders
  • Communicating those orders to the kitchen personnel
  • Garnishing food or drink items
  • Bringing the customers' orders from the kitchen to the table
  • Removing used and dirty dishware, and cleaning up tables after customers leave
  • Preparing itemized bills and bringing them to the customers, and often taking payment
  • Ensuring that dining areas are cleaned and ready, condiments are refilled, silverware is rolled, and service areas are stocked

Waiters and waitresses (also known as "servers") are the point of contact between the dining establishment and the customer. Therefore, it the job of the waiters and waitresses to ensure that the customers' dining experience is a satisfying and pleasant one. Servers work in a wide range of establishments, and their duties vary accordingly.

Servers who work in more casual establishments which serve typical, straightforward food (such as sandwiches, salads, and soups) are expected to serve the customers as quickly, efficiently, and courteously as possible. However, servers in higher-end fine-dining restaurants should create a more formal atmosphere, carefully attending to the customer's needs at a more deliberate pace.

It is common for servers to attend staff meetings before their shift to discuss any new or special items on the menu, to review any concerns about food safety, or to discuss any potential food allergens in the ingredients of certain dishes. At these meetings, they also review any issues with customer service or coordination between the dining room and the kitchen, and make necessary adjustments to solve those issues.

Work Environment

Waiters and waitresses hold over 2.3 million jobs. Roughly 75% of those jobs are found in full-service restaurants.

Waiters and waitresses often need to carry trays of food, glassware, and dishes, which can be rather heavy. They also must spend a majority of their time on their feet. The job can be stressful during busy dining times, when there is a lot of pressure on them to serve customers very quickly. Slipping and falling during these busy times is a common cause of injuries, although the job is otherwise relatively safe.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress

Waiters and waitresses typically gain their skills through short-term training offered by their employer. Jobs are typically entry-level, and require no previous work experience or formal education.

In most states, waiters and waitresses must be at least 18 years old in order to serve alcoholic beverages. However, some states have a higher minimum age requirement. Workers who serve alcoholic beverages must understand the local and state laws regarding alcohol sales.


A high school diploma is preferable to employers, but not always necessary. Many entry-level waiters and waitresses are in their early twenties or late teens, and do not have a diploma. Part-time serving positions are a common way for college or high school students (or individuals with more than one job) to earn supplemental incomes.

In all cases, new employees are trained by their employer. This training typically covers such topics as sanitation practices and safe food-handling.

Classroom training programs, which alternate on-the-job training and classroom instruction, are offered by many full-service restaurants. Trainees are taught the philosophy of the management staff as well as formal serving techniques. These programs are a good opportunity to establish a team mindset, and to build positive work relationships with other staff members. They also teach the workers how to best handle unpleasant situations or difficult customers.

There are many other classes and programs available from vocational schools, large restaurant chains, or restaurant associations, where servers can acquire more relevant skills. Some of these programs offer job-placement services for their graduates. However, an applicant's education is less important to employers than their personal qualities and their people skills.


The median salary of waiters and waitresses is about $8.80 per hour. The median salary is the salary at which 50% of the workers earned more and 50% earned less. The lowest 10% of servers earn less than $7.75 per hour, and the highest 10% earn more than $14.40 per hour. These figures include tips.

Waiters and waitresses typically earn their money from both customer tips and hourly wages. Their earnings depend largely on their employer, and the region in which they work. Customers in high-end restaurants in resort towns or major cities, for instance, usually leave much more generous tips.

Waiters and waitresses--especially those just starting out--often earn the federal minimum wage. Some state governments, however, set the minimum wage higher than the federal government does, so waiters and waitresses in those states tend to earn more money.

Job Outlook

It's estimated that job prospects for waiters and waitresses will grow by 9% in the next decade. This growth is slower than usual, when compared to the average occupation. Population growth is fueling demand for more restaurants, which is in turn fueling demand for waiters and waitresses.

This growth will be tempered, however, by the increasing number of establishments that offer diners take-out or self-service options.

Also, many dining establishments are implementing computerized payment systems, which will reduce the need for waiters and waitresses in many limited-service restaurants.

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