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Server Duties and Responsibilities

Job duties for servers vary depending on the type of dining establishment where they work and the menu items available. However, there are several universal core duties that all servers perform:

Greet Guests Servers greet and welcome guests as soon as they are seated.

Take Orders Servers accurately record customer orders and make menu suggestions when customers are unsure about what they want. Servers also tell customers about available specials or particular menu items of interest, such as award-winning dishes. Servers relay these orders to the kitchen.

Serve Customers Servers serve customers food and beverages after orders have been completed by the kitchen. They also frequently check on customers while they are dining to see if they are happy with their food and if they need anything else.

Clean Servers clean tables and dining areas during meal service, removing plates and silverware that customers have finished with and wiping down tables and chairs.

Collect Payment Servers enter customer orders into the point of sale system, deliver the bill to customers, and collect payment on the bill.

Follow State Alcohol Laws In eating establishments that serve alcoholic beverages, servers check customer ID before serving alcohol. They stop serving customers if they become belligerent or otherwise too impaired by drink. Cutting off alcohol service is a law in many states that servers and bartenders must observe.

Maintain Professional Appearance Servers maintain a professional, well-groomed appearance during their work shifts. This may include removing piercings and covering up tattoos in addition to staying clean and presentable.

Stock Condiments Servers keep table condiments stocked and arrange table displays attractively and according to dining room standards.

Prep Food and Drinks Servers make nonalcoholic beverages and prep some food items, such as salads and desserts, to lighten the workload on the kitchen staff.


Server Skills and Qualifications

Servers are professionals who display a friendly, upbeat attitude and perform their job duties quickly and efficiently. Employers hire servers with the following skills:

  • Customer service – servers have strong customer service skills to address customer complaints and provide them with a professional, caring dining experience
  • Salesmanship – because servers make menu suggestions, sales skills are essential and highly desired by employers
  • Math skills – servers present and collect payment for bills from customers, which requires basic math skills
  • Problem-solving skills – servers use problem-solving skills to address customer problems when meal items are not satisfactory
  • Multitasking – servers are able to juggle several tasks and wait on many tables at once, which requires solid multitasking abilities
  • Physical stamina – as servers stand and walk during the entirety of their shifts and carry many items at once, they need the physical ability to perform these tasks
  • Communicationskills – servers need excellent communication skills to effectively speak with customers and other restaurant staff

Server Education and Training

Some employers require servers to be at least 18 years of age, but this is not always a requirement. Any establishment that serves alcohol requires servers to be at least 20 years of age, in accordance with state laws. No education or special training is usually required for this entry-level position. Restaurants will train new servers who have no experience. During this training period, which commonly lasts one to two weeks, new servers will “shadow” an experienced server by following them around and observing all the tasks they perform.


Server Salary and Outlook

Servers usually earn tips in addition to their hourly wage. As such, hourly wages for servers can be lower than state minimum wage requirements. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), waiters and waitresses earn a median annual salary of $19,990, or $9.61 hourly. The BLS predicts that jobs for these professionals will increase 7 percent through 2026. This rate is as fast as the national job growth average. Even full-time servers do not typically receive benefits from employers, though some establishments may offer basic health insurance. Vacation days and sick days may be provided to servers who stay with the same employer for more than one year. Many employers do provide servers with free meals during their work shifts and offer employee meal discounts during off hours.


Helpful Resources

Find professional job opportunities and industry events, and learn the strategies of successful serving, using these book and websites:

National Restaurant Association – this website was designed for servers and all other restaurant professionals, and features news updates, restaurant career opportunities, and upcoming events information

Presenting Service: The Ultimate Guide for the Foodservice Professional – learn serving strategies in this book, which includes information about serving specialty coffees, cocktails, and wine, in addition to food service tips and information about international-style dining for restaurants that focus on foreign cuisines

Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals – stay up to date on restaurant news and industry events, education resources, and important legislation for restaurant workers with this website

The Encyclopedia of Restaurant Training: A Complete Ready-to-Use Training Program for All Positions in the Food Service Industry – this book covers all aspects of restaurant training and comes with a companion CD-ROM to make it easier for servers to visualize important points