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What Waiters and Waitresses Do About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Some states require workers who serve alcohol to be at least 18 years old.

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

Duties

Waiters and waitresses typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, explain daily specials, and answer questions related to the menu
  • Take orders from customers for food and beverages
  • Relay food and beverage orders to the kitchen, such as via a point-of-sale system
  • Prepare certain menu items, such as assembling garnishes or brewing coffee
  • Carry trays of food or drinks from the kitchen to the dining tables
  • Check on customers to confirm satisfaction and assist with other requests
  • Clear tables after customers finish dining, or as needed
  • Prepare customers’ itemized checks, take payment, and return change
  • Set up dining areas and stock service areas

Waiters and waitresses, also called servers, ensure that customers have a satisfying dining experience. Specific duties vary with the establishment in which they work.

Before and between waiting on customers, servers usually prepare tables and work stations. Tasks may include refilling containers, such as napkin holders, salt and pepper shakers, and condiment dispensers; keeping tables from becoming overcrowded; and tidying the serving area and dining room. Servers also may prepare some foods and nonalcoholic drinks, such as assembling salads, brewing coffee, and portioning desserts. In fine-dining restaurants, they may set tables with linens, eating utensils, and glassware.

Food service duties include taking customers’ orders, placing those orders with the kitchen, and delivering food and drinks to the table. Servers attend to customers throughout the meal and collect payment at the end. In restaurants that do not employ bus staff, servers often are responsible for cleaning tables after customers finish dining.

In establishments that sell alcohol, servers verify that customers meet the age requirement for its purchase.

Servers may meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss topics such as the menu or specials, ingredients for potential food allergies, and coordination between the kitchen and dining room. They may have cleaning duties, such as vacuuming carpet and emptying trash, at the end of the shift.

Work Environment About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waiters and waitresses mostly work in full-service restaurants.

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.0 million jobs in 2020. The largest employers of waiters and waitresses were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 82%
Traveler accommodation 5
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 3

Waiters and waitresses stand most of their shift and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and drinks. The work may be hectic and fast-paced. During busy dining periods, they may be under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. They must be able to work as part of a team with kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Waiters and waitresses may be required to wear a uniform or to comply with a specific dress code.

Work Schedules

Part time work is common, and schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

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

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waiters and waitresses typically learn on the job.

Waiters and waitresses typically do not need formal education or related work experience to enter the occupation. They typically learn through on-the-job training that lasts 1 month or less.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old, 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.

Education

Typically, no formal education is required to become a waiter or waitress. However, some employers require or prefer that workers have a high school diploma.

Training

Waiters and waitresses typically learn through short-term on-the-job-training, usually lasting from several days to a few weeks. Trainees typically work with an experienced waiter or waitress, who teaches them basic serving techniques.

On-the-job training helps new workers learn serving techniques and use of the restaurant’s order-placement, payment, and other systems. Training also prepares waiters and waitresses to properly handle difficult situations and unpleasant 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 may be offered online or in-house.

Some states require that servers take training related to the safe handling of food.

Advancement

Waiters and waitresses who have experience may advance to work in fine-dining restaurants. Advancement may offer improved conditions, such as preferred schedules or higher tips.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen to customers, ask questions as needed, and relay information to the kitchen staff so that orders are prepared to the customers’ satisfaction.

Customer-service skills. Waiters and waitresses are frontline workers for their restaurant. 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 should be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to the correct customers.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses spend most of their work hours standing or walking and carrying trays, dishes, and drinks.

Physical strength. Waiters and waitresses need to be able to lift and carry trays of food or other items.

Pay About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$22.00

Food and beverage serving workers

$12.50

Waiters and waitresses

$12.50

 

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $12.50 in May 2021. 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 $8.58, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.07.

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for waiters and waitresses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Arts, entertainment, and recreation $12.53
Restaurants and other eating places 12.32
Traveler accommodation 12.26

These wage data include tips. 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. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website listing minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Part-time work is common for waiters and waitresses. Schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

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

Job Outlook About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Waiters and waitresses

20%

Food and beverage serving workers

18%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 20 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 470,200 openings for waiters and waitresses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.

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 to provide customer service.

Employment projections data for waiters and waitresses, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Waiters and waitresses

35-3031 2,023,200 2,430,700 20 407,600 Get data

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