Waiter and Waitress Career Information: Becoming a Waiter or Waitress

Mar 09, 2020

Learn how to become a waiter or waitress. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a waiter or waitress.

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  • 0:00 Becoming a Waiter or Waitress
  • 1:22 Gain Restaurant Experience
  • 1:50 Complete On-the-Job Training
  • 2:40 Earn Certification

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Becoming a Waiter or Waitress

Degree Level High school diploma preferred
Licensure/Certification Food handler card required in some states
Experience Experience working in a restaurant may be preferred
Key Skills Communication, customer-service, interpersonal skills; team-oriented, physical stamina; detail-oriented and self-motivated
Additional Requirements 18 years old for some alcohol serving establishments
Salary $10.47 per hour (2018 median for wait staff)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); Job postings (September 2012)

Waiters and waitresses, also known as servers, take orders in dining establishments and serve food and beverages to patrons. Specific duties will depend on the type of restaurant. For example, some servers may also greet and seat customers, set tables, prepare drinks and remove dirty dishes and glasses. Some dining establishments have other restaurant employees perform some of these duties. Work can be stressful and hectic during the busier serving hours. Patience might be required when dealing with demanding or rude customers. High-end restaurants may prefer waiters and waitresses who have a high school diploma and experience in the field, but there are no formal education requirements to become a server.

Some states require servers to have a food handler card. Depending on the restaurant, previous serving experience may be preferred. It is essential that servers be skilled in communication, customer-service, interpersonal relations, working on a team, physical stamina and being detail-oriented and self-motivated. Additionally, some establishments, generally those that serve alcohol, may require that servers be at least 18 years of age. The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $10.47 per hour as of May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: Gain Restaurant Experience

Getting restaurant experience while in high school can be beneficial for those who want to have a career in the food industry. While some smaller establishments may hire waiters and waitresses while in high school, teenagers may be able to more easily find employment opportunities as dishwashers, hostesses or bussers.

Get a high school diploma. While not required to work as a waiter or waitress, earning a high diploma may be preferred by some employers.

Step 2: Complete On-the-Job Training

Once individuals have entry-level experience in a dining establishment, they may apply for waiter or waitress openings. Some restaurants may prefer to hire applicants who are at least 18 years of age to serve alcohol. Newly hired waiters and waitresses may have to go through a training program where they shadow an experienced server and have an opportunity to memorize menu items. Full-service restaurants may have employee's complete classroom training in formal serving techniques, restaurant philosophy and teamwork, along with on-the-job work experience.

Acquire more skills. The BLS noted that servers could acquire more skills by completing relevant classes offered by restaurant associations and vocational schools. Outside training programs may delve into topics on improving tips, customer satisfaction, professionalism and problem-solving techniques.

Step 3: Earn Certification

Some states, such as Washington and California, may require servers to complete food safety training and earn a card before handling food that will be served in a public venue. While the requirements can vary by state, servers typically complete a food safety training class and pass an exam. The card may have to be renewed every 3 years.

Get familiar with food safety techniques. In states that don't require food safety training, servers may choose to complete optional training offered through associations such as the National Restaurant Association. In addition to learning how to prevent foodborne illness through proper sanitation, servers demonstrate their commitment to the field by completing additional training.

Waiters and waitresses, or servers, do not need any formal education beyond a high school diploma. However, additional training may help prospective servers get jobs at more upscale establishments.

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