Education and Training: On-the-job training
Salary: Median—$6.75 per hour including tips
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Waiters are the men and women who take orders and serve food in restaurants throughout the country. They are usually assigned to serve a certain number of tables (called a station) by the restaurant manager, the host or hostess, or the headwaiter. Waiters give a copy of the restaurant's menu to each customer and sometimes explain how the different meals on the menu are prepared. They write down customers' orders so that the cooks can prepare each dish exactly as requested. When the food is ready, waiters carry it from the kitchen to the tables. Alert waiters remember what each person has ordered and can place the correct dish in front of the person who ordered it. This kind of service assures good tips and brings customers back to the restaurant.
Waiters give constant attention to the guests. They refill coffee cups and water glasses and ask if guests want to order anything else. They also record the food and drink prices on the guests' checks. When guests are ready to leave, waiters take the checks to the tables. In some restaurants waiters handle guests' payments for meals; in others guests take their checks directly to the cashier.
There are many different kinds of restaurants, and the work of waiters varies accordingly. In fine, elegant restaurants, waiters are supervised by a headwaiter and must serve food in special, formal ways. Many high-end restaurants offer a specific style of cooking—they may feature French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, or some other specialized cuisine. Quite often waiters in these restaurants speak the appropriate language when describing each dish.
A completely different working atmosphere exists in other restaurants. Some waiters work in cocktail lounges and nightclubs where alcoholic beverages are served. In small restaurants waiters are expected to perform many additional duties. They clean tables, clear dishes, and set the tables with clean tablecloths, napkins, silverware, glasses, and cups. Sometimes they do preparation work that includes filling salt, pepper, and sugar containers. They may also stock glasses and silverware where they can be reached easily during a rush period. In large restaurants dining room attendants usually perform these tasks.
Because people often eat in restaurants during their leisure hours, waiters must be prepared to work evenings, weekends, and some holidays. The hours may be irregular, so many waiters work part time.
Education and Training Requirements
There are no formal education requirements for waiters; however, employers prefer to hire people who have a high school education. Basic skills in arithmetic are mandatory. A neat appearance and pleasant manner are also desirable.
Some vocational schools offer training, but most waiters learn their skills on the job. Fine restaurants like to hire people who have had experience or formal training. Candidates with little experience can accept jobs as dining room attendants and work toward a promotion. In certain restaurants waiters must have special skills, such as fluency in a foreign language or knowledge of formal table service.
In restaurants that serve liquor, waiters must have reached the minimum drinking age in their state. Many states require that all waiters have health certificates stating they are free of communicable diseases.
Getting the Job
Interested individuals can find lists of job openings in newspaper want ads, on Internet job sites, or at their state employment office. Prospective waiters should also apply directly to restaurants in which they would like to work. Seasonal jobs are available in resort areas.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Waiters who do a good job may be promoted to a work shift that offers better opportunities for tips. Experienced waiters may look for jobs in restaurants that serve liquor, where tips are usually higher. They may become headwaiters or advance into the management end of the restaurant business.
Americans are eating out more than ever, and new restaurants continue to open throughout the country. The number of jobs for waiters through the year 2014 is expected to grow as fast as the average. More openings are available in less expensive restaurants because they have a high job turnover rate. Competition is highest for jobs in expensive restaurants, where wages and tips are higher. In some areas of the United States there are more openings than there are workers to fill them.
Because restaurants serve the public, they are usually pleasant, comfortable places to work. However, the work can get hectic at times. Waiters must deal with many different personality types, handle any complaints from customers (or have the restaurant manager address them), and remain friendly and courteous even when extremely busy. This job is also physically demanding—it involves standing, walking, bending, and lifting heavy trays for hours at a time.
Waiters can expect to work holidays, weekends, and evenings. Full-time waiters usually work forty to forty-eight hours a week, and many belong to labor unions.
Sometimes waiters work split shifts during which they work for a few hours, leave the restaurant, and return a few hours later. Many part-time jobs are available in this field.
Some restaurants require waiters to wear uniforms. Employers may provide uniforms or an allowance for their purchase.
Earnings and Benefits
Wages for waiters vary greatly, depending on the type of restaurant in which they work and its location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time waiters earned a median wage of $6.75 per hour including tips in 2004.
Tips for waiters average from 10 to 20 percent of the guest check and are highest in the more expensive restaurants. Waiters usually earn more from tips than they do from wages. In some restaurants tips are placed into a tip pool that is shared by all waiters as well as other dining room staff.
Where to Go for More Information
The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education
2810 N. Parham Rd., Ste. 230
Richmond, VA 23294
National Restaurant Association
1200 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Benefits for full-time workers often include health insurance, paid vacations, and meals. Part-time workers usually do not receive these benefits.