Waiter / Waitress

How to Become a Waiter / Waitress
Waiter Job Duties
Skills and Qualities of a Waiter
Waiter Wages and Earnings
Influential Professionals in this Field
Leading Organizations in this Field
Top Cities for Waiting and Server Jobs
Other Careers of Interest

How to become a Waiter or Waitress

Most chain restaurants provide server training for members of their staff, either on- or off-site. This may involve learning in a classroom setting and/or shadowing an experienced server for a period of time. A high school diploma is usually the maximum educational requirement for such positions and oftentimes, even this isn't necessary.

Fine dining facilities, such as those owned by celebrity chefs, at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, high-end clubs and banquet halls and resort/cruise ship operators, might also provide server training. However, to secure a position with such employers, one often has to show evidence that they have a sustained history of serving in mid-to-upper level dining establishments. Such businesses may also want documented evidence that an applicant has training in sommelier arts or other cuisine skills; this might, for example, include experience gained at culinary arts schools, like Le Cordon Bleu, The Art Institutes or any number of on-line education providers.

At whatever level one aspires to work, most servers acquire the bulk of their training on-the-job, that is, while working as a waiter or waitress. The one exception would be private, domestic serving, where one might be expected to attend a domestic service training program such as those that educate chauffeurs and butlers in their duties. The requirements for serving at the residences of political figures, for example, presidents, governors and ambassadors or at assisted living facilities may be even stricter, requiring background checks, government oversight and even some form of licensing.

What does a Waiter do?

Waiters and waitresses attend customers or employers in domestic and assisted-living settings, by serving food and beverages. As this suggests, waiting staff work for a diverse range of employers, including hotels, restaurants, private and public clubs, banquet facilities, cruise ships, vacation resorts and households. Most servers wear uniforms, either as extensions of a given restaurant's brand or as required by the formal atmosphere maintained by their employer.

Such a diverse set of opportunities means serving is one of the most popular jobs in the world. Frequently, it is also one of the most flexible in terms of scheduling. That, combined with its relative lack of off-the-clock demands, means it's frequently the preferred day-job of aspiring creative professionals, writers, musicians, actors etc. However, many servers, especially those in high-end restaurants, resorts, cruise ships, and in domestic settings, consider themselves career professionals and aspire to work in top restaurants, households and other facilities around the world.

What skills or qualities do I need to become a Waiter / Waitress?

Any effective server must be able to constructively interact with people. This is the occupation's primary skill and the quality that defines successful waiters and waitresses. Clearly, this means working well with often irritable, hurried customers, but also with management staff, domestic employer, kitchen team and/or fellow servers.

Servers must also be at least somewhat physically capable, as the corporeal realities of serving can be demanding. Carrying large, heavy trays; nimbly moving about crowded rooms; arranging and serving complex orders, these are a few of the physical demands a server faces in the course of their daily work. Since servers are also almost constantly on their feet during a shift, a basic level of physical fitness can help mediate the effects of long hours spent exerting oneself.

Servers must also possess good memories and have the ability to organize large amounts of data, which is often given in a hurry, by customers, managers and employers. In a restaurant setting, a basic knowledge of maths will help a server recognize and deal with inevitable billing errors. Moreover, a good level of computer literacy, including major point of sale software systems, will prevent many of these errors from occurring.

How much does a Waiter make?

Since the American restaurant industry demands its customers subsidize its labor costs with tips, most servers work for less-than minimum wage, just over $2/hour. Therefore, the type of restaurant in which a server works is crucial in determining take-home pay. Since tips are most commonly paid by calculating 10-20% of a bill, waiters and waitresses at establishments whose average bill runs into the hundreds of dollars and those whose run much less, experience a great discrepancy in pay.

Full-time servers working at casual-dining restaurants can usually expect to make between $20-25,000/year in most markets. Servers at higher-end restaurants and banquet halls can make many times that; up to six figures in markets like New York and Los Angeles. In the same cities, domestic servers and those working in assisted living facilities can make between $60-80,000 per year. As they often operate under different international laws and employ diverse sets of nationals, the salaries of servers at vacation resorts and on cruise ships can vary greatly.

Who are some influential professionals in this field?

Many successful waiters and waitresses will progress to become maîtres d'hôtel. A maitre d'hôtel oversees all the restaurant's 'front of house' staff and ensures that diners have faultless service and a memorable visit.

Dmitri Dmitrov is a top maître d'hôtel at the famous Diaghilev restaurant, which is based at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood. Dmitrov started out waiting on tables at a London restaurant at the age of 18.

Another prominent maître d'hôtel is Jean-Philippe from Brussels, Belgium. Jean-Philippe has become well known from his appearances on Hell's Kitchen USA and manages to meet the exacting high standards of notorious chef Gordon Ramsay!

What are some leading organizations in this field?

Arguably, the most important professional culinary organization is UNITE HERE (, a labor union whose membership is dominated by service industry workers that includes waiters and waitresses. Focused on improving wage levels and promoting responsible labor practices, UNITE HERE enjoys a membership of nearly half a million workers in the US and Canada.

What are the top cities for Waiting jobs?

The rise and pervasiveness of the celebrity chef culture has seen the spread of high-end restaurants across the United States. Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and New York, all boast restaurants by the likes of Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay. These restaurants draw customers at a steady pace and charge handsomely for meals, thus increasing the take-home wages of their servers.

Nevertheless, chain and independent restaurants, of varying types, exist in virtually every city in the United States. Therefore, anyone wanting to serve at restaurants like Chili's, Outback, Olive Garden and local, independent eateries should have no trouble doing so. Because of the cost associated with, and relative rarity of, domestic servers, those interested in working in that capacity would do well to focus on major centers of capital, traditionally Los Angles and New York, but also Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Las Vegas. Major retirement centers like Phoenix and Miami provide opportunities to serve in assisted living facilities, while vacation centers like Hawaii, California and Florida offer the best chance for servers looking to work in that industry.

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