Waiters and Waitresses

Summary

waiters and waitresses image
Waiters and waitresses serve food to customers.
Quick Facts: Waiters and Waitresses
2012 Median Pay $18,540 per year
$8.92 per hour
Entry-Level Education Less than high school
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 2,362,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 6% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 131,800

What Waiters and Waitresses Do

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

Work Environment

Waiters and waitresses work in restaurants, bars, hotels, and other food-serving and drinking establishments. During busy hours, they are under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. About half worked part time in 2012. This often includes early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress

Most waiter and waitress jobs are at the entry level, and workers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education is required.

Pay

The median hourly wage (including tips) for waiters and waitresses was $8.92 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities are expected to be very good because of the many workers who leave their jobs each year. Candidates seeking employment at upscale restaurants should face strong competition for jobs.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of waiters and waitresses with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about waiters and waitresses by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Waiters and Waitresses Do About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waiters and waitresses may make wine recommendations.

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, present menus, and explain daily specials to customers
  • Answer questions related to menu items
  • Take food and beverage orders from customers
  • Relay food and beverage orders to the kitchen staff
  • Prepare drinks and food garnishes
  • Carry trays of food or drinks from the kitchen to the dining tables
  • Remove dirty dishes and glasses, and clean tables after customers finish meals
  • Prepare itemized checks and take payments from customers
  • Clean and set up dining areas, refill condiments, roll silverware into napkins, and stock service areas

Waiters and waitresses, also called servers, are responsible for ensuring that customers have a satisfying dining experience. The specific duties of servers vary considerably with the establishment in which they work.

In casual-dining restaurants that offer simple fare, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches, servers are expected to provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. In fine-dining restaurants, where more complicated meals are prepared and are often served over several courses, waiters and waitresses provide more formal service. They emphasize personal, attentive treatment at a more leisurely pace.

Waiters and waitresses often meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss the menu or specials, review ingredients for potential food allergies, or talk about any food safety concerns. They also discuss coordination between the kitchen and the dining room and review any customer service issues from the previous day or shift.

In addition, waiters and waitresses usually check the identification of customers to ensure that they meet the minimum age requirement for the purchase of alcohol.

Work Environment About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waitresses bring meals from the kitchen to the dining room.

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.4 million jobs in 2012. About 77 percent worked in full-service restaurants—establishments that provide food service to customers who are served while seated and pay after eating.

Waiters and waitresses are on their feet most of the time and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and drinks. The work can be hectic and fast paced. During busy dining periods, they are under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. They must be able to work well as a team with kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Although the work is relatively safe, rushed servers can suffer injuries from slips and falls. To reduce these risks, waiters and waitresses are often required to wear non-slip shoes.

Because waiters and waitresses are the front line of customer service in food service and drinking establishments, a neat appearance is important. Those who work in fine-dining and upscale restaurants may be required to wear uniforms, including ties or aprons, which are typically provided by their employer.                                

Work Schedules

About half of all waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2012. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed 77 percent of all waiters and waitresses in 2012.

In resorts that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may work for only a few months each year.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Some restaurants offer in-house training for new hires.

Most waiter and waitress jobs are at the entry level, and workers learn through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education or previous work experience is required to enter the occupation.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years of age, 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

No formal education is required to become a waiter or waitress.

Many entrants are in their late teens or early twenties and have less than a high school education. Waiter and waitress jobs are a major source of part-time employment for high school and college students, multiple jobholders, and those seeking supplemental incomes.

Some waiters and waitresses can acquire more skills by attending relevant classes offered by public or private vocational schools, restaurant associations, or large restaurant chains. However, employers are more likely to hire and promote employees based on their people skills and personal qualities than on their education.

Training

Most waiters and waitresses learn their skills through short-term on-the-job-training, usually lasting a few weeks.

Some full-service restaurants provide new employees with some form of classroom training that alternates with periods of on-the-job work experience. These training programs communicate the operating philosophy of the restaurant, help new servers establish a rapport with other staff, teach formal serving techniques, and instill a desire to work as a team. They also discuss customer service situations and the proper ways to handle unpleasant circumstances or unruly customers.

Training for waiters and waitresses in establishments that serve alcohol typically involve 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 can be taken online or in-house.

Important Qualities

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

Customer-service skills. Waiters and waitresses spend most of their work time serving customers. They should be friendly and polite and be able to develop a rapport with customers.

Detail oriented. Waiters and waitresses must keep customers’ orders straight. They must be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to customers.

Interpersonal skills. Waiters and waitresses must be courteous, tactful, and attentive as they deal with customers in all circumstances. For example, they must show an understanding of customers’ complaints and help resolve any issues that arise.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses spend hours on their feet carrying heavy trays, dishes, and drinks.

Pay About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Food preparation and serving related occupations

$9.10

Waiters and waitresses

$8.92

 

The median hourly wage (including tips) for waiters and waitresses was $8.92 in May 2012. 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 $7.79 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $14.19 per hour.

Many waiters and waitresses get their earnings from a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. Earnings vary greatly with the type of establishment and region. For example, tips are generally much higher in upscale restaurants in major metropolitan areas and resorts.

In some states, tipped employees are paid the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009) in addition to tips. Others earn more per hour because they work in states that set minimum wages higher than the federal minimum.

States may have exceptions to the minimum wage laws in specific circumstances for tipped employees. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The employer may consider tips as part of wages, but the employer must pay at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with minimum wages for tipped employees, by state.

About half of all waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2012. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed 77 percent of all waiters and waitresses in 2012.

Those who work in resorts may be employed by the resort for only a few months each year.

Many employers provide free meals and furnish uniforms, but some may deduct the cost from wages.

Job Outlook About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Food preparation and serving related occupations

9%

Waiters and waitresses

6%

 

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

As the population grows and more people dine out, many new restaurants are expected to open. This will result in demand for waiters and waitresses, particularly at full-service restaurants.

However, consumers increasingly prefer take out, self-service, or food delivery from a growing number and variety of places. Establishments typically do not employ waiters and waitresses to handle these services, which reduces the need for servers.

In addition, technology-driven payment and ordering systems should limit employment growth of waiters and waitresses in many limited-service establishments, such as fast casual and cafeteria-style restaurants. In these places, waiters and waitresses may serve food or drinks only, because customers typically pay for food before eating. As a result, fewer waiters and waitresses will be needed to take orders and handle customers’ payments.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for waiters and waitresses are expected to be very good, primarily because of the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year.

Candidates with previous work experience and excellent customer-service skills will have the best job opportunities in fine-dining and upscale restaurants. Strong competition at these establishments is expected, as potential earnings from tips are greater than at other restaurants and the number of job applicants usually exceeds the number of job openings.

Employment projections data for waiters and waitresses, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Waiters and waitresses

35-3031 2,362,200 2,494,000 6 131,800 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of waiters and waitresses.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Bartenders

Bartenders

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

Less than high school $18,900
Cashiers

Cashiers

Cashiers handle payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

Less than high school $18,970
Flight attendants

Flight Attendants

Flight attendants provide personal services to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.

High school diploma or equivalent $37,240
Food and beverage serving and related workers

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.

Less than high school $18,400
Retail sales workers

Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers include both those who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles, (called retail salespersons) and those who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts (called parts salespersons). Both types of workers help customers find the products they want and process customers’ payments.

Less than high school $21,410
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Waiters and Waitresses,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/waiters-and-waitresses.htm (visited April 17, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014