Restaurant Server: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a restaurant server. Learn about education requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Restaurant & Catering Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Restaurant Server?

Restaurant servers work in dining establishments, serving meals to customers. As a restaurant server, you'll need to be well organized and have good customer service and communication skills. You'll typically be responsible for taking food and beverage orders, answering customer questions, preparing drinks and serving meals. You may also be responsible for cleaning tables and preparing checks. Through the table below, you can learn about the typical skills needed, along with career statistics.

Education Required High school diploma
Key Skills Customer service, communication, memory, physical stamina
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for all waiters and waitresses)*
Median Salary (2015) $19,250 (for all waiters and waitresses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Will I Have?

As a restaurant server--also called a waiter or waitress--your specific job duties depend on the type and size of the establishment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for example, casual dining menu options are much simpler than those offered in a fine dining restaurant and therefore require less explanation. Additionally, smaller restaurants may require servers to take on the responsibilities of greeting, seating and collecting payment--whereas larger establishments hire on staff specifically for those duties. Despite the differences, your main responsibilities likely include:

  • Taking meal orders
  • Assisting with customer questions
  • Working with kitchen staff to ensure accuracy
  • Delivering food and drinks to your tables
  • Preparing and presenting checks

What Training Do I Need?

Typically, restaurant wait staff is not required to have formal training or education. However, restaurants may require you to have previous serving experience and may offer extensive on-the-job training to those without. Every employer provides some on-the-job training, often in the form of shadowing a veteran at work, but some go so far as to send new employees to classroom sessions on customer service skills as well.

If you're looking to start a career in the food service industry, several colleges and universities offer certificate and degree programs in food service management. Courses may cover food preparation, operations management, nutrition and sanitation. Completing one of these programs gives you more opportunity for advancement in the field.

What Could I Expect to Make?

Restaurant servers' incomes are largely dependent upon tips and gratuities, so compensation may vary between restaurants of different types and size. The BLS reported the median salary of waiters and waitresses as $19,250 per year or $9.25 per hour as of May 2015 ( However, half of serving jobs in the restaurant industry are part-time. Those looking for higher compensation may be eligible for supervisory roles after obtaining enough experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're looking for careers that don't require formal training, you may consider becoming a bartender, cashier, or fast food worker. Bartenders work at dining and drinking establishments, and they are responsible for mixing and serving drinks, as well as managing the bar area. Cashiers work at stores and operate cash registers, along with processing customer payments, returns and exchanges. Fast food workers work in fast food restaurants and may take orders, prepare and serve food, and process payments.

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