Summary

waiters and waitresses image
Waiters and waitresses serve food and beverages to customers.
Quick Facts: Waiters and Waitresses
2016 Median Pay $19,990 per year
$9.61 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 2,600,500
Job Outlook, 2016-26 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 182,500

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. Work schedules include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. About half worked part time in 2016. During busy hours, they may be under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress

Most waiters and waitresses learn on the job. No formal education is required.

Pay

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $9.61 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job prospects are expected to be very good because of the many workers who leave their jobs each year. Candidates seeking employment at upscale restaurants may face strong competition for jobs.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for waiters and waitresses.

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 the menu and offer item suggestions
  • 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
  • Set up dining areas, refill condiments, 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 with the establishment in which they work.

In casual-dining restaurants that offer simple menu items, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches, servers provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. In fine-dining restaurants, where more complicated meals are typically prepared and served over several courses, waiters and waitresses emphasize personal, attentive treatment at a more leisurely pace. For example, they may offer a wine recommendation with certain foods.

Servers may 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 establishments where alcohol is served, waiters and waitresses verify the age of customers and ensure that they meet legal requirements for the purchase of alcohol.

Work Environment About this section

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

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.6 million jobs in 2016. The largest employers of waiters and waitresses were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 82%
Traveler accommodation 6
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 3

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 may be 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.

Because waiters and waitresses are the front line of customer service in food-service and drinking establishments, appearance is important. Those who work in fine-dining and upscale restaurants may be required to wear uniforms.

Work Schedules

About half of waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2016. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed the vast majority of waiters and waitresses in 2016.

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.

Most waiters and waitresses 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.

Training

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

Some full-service restaurants provide new employees with some form of classroom training in combination 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 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 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 can be taken online or in-house.

Some states may require that any staff who handle food need to take training related to the safe handling of food.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen carefully to customers’ specific requests, ask 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 record customers’ orders accurately. They need to 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 hours on their feet carrying trays, dishes, and drinks.

Physical strength. Waiters and waitresses need to be able to lift and carry trays or materials that can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Pay About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Median hourly wages, May 2016

Total, all occupations

$17.81

Waiters and waitresses

$9.61

Food and beverage serving workers

$9.50

 

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $9.61 in May 2016. 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 $8.22, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.49.

In May 2016, the median hourly wages for waiters and waitresses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Traveler accommodation $10.13
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 10.00
Restaurants and other eating places 9.57

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 locality. For example, tips are generally much higher in upscale restaurants in major metropolitan areas and resorts.

Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009), which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

According to the FLSA, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with a list of minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Some employers may provide meals and furnish uniforms, but other employers may deduct the cost from wages.

About half of waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2016. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed the vast majority of waiters and waitresses in 2016.

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 2016-26

Food and beverage serving workers

11%

Total, all occupations

7%

Waiters and waitresses

7%

 

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the population grows and more people dine out, many 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 provide customer service.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for waiters and waitresses are expected to be very good, primarily because of the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year. There should be competition for jobs at upscale establishments, however, 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, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Waiters and waitresses

35-3031 2,600,500 2,783,000 7 182,500 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

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 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Bartenders

Bartenders

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

No formal educational credential $20,800
Cashiers

Cashiers

Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

No formal educational credential $20,180
Flight attendants

Flight Attendants

Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers while aboard planes.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,500
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.

No formal educational credential $19,630
Retail sales workers

Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers’ payments. There are two types of retail sales workers: retail salespersons, who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles; and parts salespersons, who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts.

No formal educational credential $22,900
Food service managers

Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages. They direct staff to ensure that customers are satisfied with their dining experience, and they manage the business to ensure that it is profitable.

High school diploma or equivalent $50,820
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Waiters and Waitresses,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/waiters-and-waitresses.htm (visited November 01, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.