What Is a Professional Server?

Research what it takes to become a professional server. Learn about training requirements, job duties and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Computer Systems Administration degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Server?

A professional server, also known as a waiter or waitress, is someone who works directly with customers in food and beverage service. If you pursue this job, your duties can vary significantly based on the type of establishment in which you work. Fine dining service can be very different than working in a busy pub or small café, for example. Generally speaking, it's your job to respond to menu questions, take food orders and bring food to the customers. You'll be expected to know the menu, including the ingredients of available dishes and the options for customers to make special requests. You should enjoy interacting constantly with people if you're thinking of becoming a professional server.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required No formal education required; certificate or associate's degree an option for advancement
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Respond to menu questions, take food orders, bring food to customers
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3%
Average Salary (2015)* $23,020

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Professional Servers Do?

Professional servers' duties include helping patrons choose their meals and providing strong customer service. In more informal settings, you may perform a wider variety of tasks, including seating customers, working a cash register and clearing tables. In fine dining, the scope of your responsibilities will be narrower; these restaurants typically have hosts, busboys and other staff to perform all duties outside of answering menu questions and taking orders. Regardless of your environment as a professional server, you'll spend significant amounts of time on your feet and you may be expected to carry and balance substantial trays of food and beverages.

What Training Will I Need?

Most professional server jobs won't require more than a high school education. Typically, you'll receive on-the-job training. This includes learning through observation of veteran servers. Some restaurants will provide training in food handling and general sanitation, with some high-end restaurants offering further training in formal serving practices.

While rarely required, there are formal education programs that can offer you training in food service and related areas. These include certificate and associate's degree programs in catering and culinary arts. In these programs, you may find coursework in serving techniques, sanitation practices and other topics useful when working in a customer-facing role, such as dining room management. You'll also learn about other aspects of restaurant and catering operations, including food preparation and nutrition.

What Salary Could I Expect?

Your wages will typically consist of a base salary and customer tips. As of May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that waiters and waitresses had an annual mean salary of $23,020 (www.bls.gov). The highest paying state at that time was Hawaii, where the annual mean salary was $32,480, followed by Washington, Vermont, Alaska, and California. The BLS reported that servers working outside of restaurants had a mean annual wage of $23,010; this included those who served food in hotels, hospitals and nursing care facilities.

Where Might I Work?

As a professional server, you can work in a variety of settings. These include restaurants of many types, from casual diners to formal, high-end establishments. In order to advance in the restaurant business, you generally need to work your way up from lower-paying to gradually more elite establishments. In addition to restaurants, you can also work in hotels, hospitals, gaming venues, amusement parks and other locations that serve food and beverages.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of customer service careers requiring little or no formal education to consider, and your choice will depend on the type of industry in which you'd like to work. For example, you could be a bartender, if you are interested in learning how to make and serve drinks to customers. You could also become a flight attendant. These professionals keep passengers comfortable during flights but are also responsible for their safety, particularly during emergencies.

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