Head Server Job Description

Head servers take the lead in waiting on patrons at eating establishments. They are dedicated to exceptional customer service and coordinate the efforts of others on staff to ensure diners walk away satisfied. While any restaurant may employ head servers, they are especially found at upscale eateries and hotels. Shifts can be part-time or full-time and often include evening or weekend schedules to coincide with when the establishment is open. Head servers spend a good deal of time on their feet moving around the facility. Being sufficiently strong and graceful to maneuver trays and other items without causing a disaster is mandatory.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes head servers under “waiters and waitresses”; that field is expected to increase 7 percent between 2016 and 2026. Because of prestige and better pay, competition for head server positions will likely be higher than for regular waitstaff jobs.


Head Server Duties and Responsibilities

Happy customers are repeat customers, so head servers do everything they can to create a pleasurable experience. To that end, they often perform these key tasks found in most job ads for head server positions:

Delivering Food

At the core of the head server’s job is just that – serving. Head servers ask diners what they want to eat and bring the correct food in the proper sequence to the table.

Monitoring Staff

Head servers are not classified as managers, but they do coordinate the actions of others to keep operations flowing. They may assign opening and closing duties, send individuals to retrieve items such as a forgotten salad or a new fork, instruct them to refill water glasses, and perform other services that contribute to positive dining. If problems arise between staff members, head servers may step in to promote harmony. Head servers may spend considerable time with new hires to get them up to speed.

Conveying Knowledge

Expertise about the menu allows head servers to converse intelligently with guests. Head servers should be able to explain ingredients, preparation techniques, and available substitutions. They stay current on new or changing options, such as the soup of the day or seasonal offerings. Suggesting which wines pair well with given entrees and pointing out house specialties can further enhance meals.

Addressing Questions and Issues

When a salad contains the wrong dressing, a spill requires a quick response, or a steak needs more time on the grill, head servers act to resolve the problem. Likewise, they may attend to basic customer requests such as shutting blinds to get the sun out of someone’s eyes or providing directions to the washroom.


Head Server Skills

As the name implies, head servers are both leaders and helpers. They support peers on their staff as well as assist diners. Effective communication and good interpersonal skills aid with both responsibilities. Other qualities that hiring managers look for when hiring for head server positions include:

  • Attending to detail, such as ensuring place settings look correct
  • Listening carefully to determine the desires of patrons and act accordingly, such as figuring out the right level of pinkness for a steak
  • Maintaining politeness and positivity, especially when dealing with rude or disgruntled patrons
  • Multitasking in order to serve the needs of various diners at the same time
  • Interacting sufficiently with customers to build goodwill and attend to their needs, but also being sensitive about giving people their space
  • Looking well-groomed and neatly dressed consistently to reflect positively on the employer


Head Server Tools of the trade

Head servers typically encounter the following in their job:

  • Menus – written descriptions of what a restaurant offers
  • Specials – additional food items that are available but not on the menu, oftentimes prepared with seasonally available ingredients
  • Table settings – specific placement of plates, glasses, utensils, and napkins on a table
  • Order pads – paper tablets on which servers jot orders and specifications to serve as a written reference for food preparers in the kitchen and as a tally when preparing the bill
  • Point of sale system – computer software that keeps track of each guest’s order and bill
  • Tips – money paid by customers beyond the price of the meal as recognition of outstanding service
  • Uniforms – required clothing chosen by the employer that projects the desired image and makes servers easy to spot


Head Server Education and Training

While on-the-job training is the norm in the restaurant industry, head servers usually possess at least a high school diploma. A culinary or college degree, however, may help job prospects, as can fluency in a second language. Employers often like to promote from within, so performing exceptionally well in lesser roles can pave the way to becoming a head server.


Head Server Salary

The BLS includes head servers under the category of “waiters and waitresses.” The median annual salary for waiters and waitresses is $19,900. Workers in the 10th percentile earn about $17,000 a year, and the highest paid make in excess of $38,000 a year. Waiters and waitresses in Hawaii, Vermont, and California make the highest median salaries in the U.S. – $34,230, $29,180, and $25,470, respectively.

Because of their higher position and greater responsibility, head servers generally rank among the better-paid workers in the profession. The nature of the restaurant also influences income. Tips often get calculated based on a percentage of the bill, so head servers at fine dining establishments are in a position to earn more than counterparts at less expensive establishments.


Head Server Resources

Do you have the leadership skills and temperament to become a head server? Learn more about what it takes to become a great one by checking out these sources of information:

Remarkable Service – Respected industry-wide as a contemporary reference guide and refresher for food service professionals, this book offers straightforward advice on everything from setting tables to properly taking orders to dealing with customer complaints. Reviewers call it “easy to understand,” “comprehensive” and “helpful.”

Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter – Want the inside scoop on what it takes to operate a successful restaurant? Renowned restaurateur Charlie Trotter knows all about the importance of customer service in upscale establishments. His tips and insight can help head servers anywhere develop into superstars.

National Restaurant Association – The careers section on the website of this leading industry organization offers information on training, education, scholarships, and the future of working in the restaurant business.

Careers in the Restaurant Business – Where do head servers fit in among the many careers in the restaurant industry? This book offers vocational guidance for prospective applicants.


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