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Training for Waitresses and Waiters

Learn about training options available for wait staff, which includes degrees. Get information about typical work duties as well as professional certification.

How Do I Become a Waitress or Waiter?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most waiters and waitresses are trained on the job (www.bls.gov). There are no formal educational requirements to work as a waiter or waitress. However, some employers look for a high school diploma. Many food service employees, including waitresses and waiters, have no postsecondary training and very little or no work experience. Students and others looking for a part-time income usually hold positions in the industry.

When looking for a job, you'll need to show prospective employers that you communicate well, have excellent memory and maintain a neat appearance. You'll also need to show that you can establish a good relationship with repeat customers. Although it's not required, learning a foreign language can also be helpful to your job search, especially if you're looking for work in a bilingual establishment or at a restaurant that specializes in foreign cuisine.

Once you've been hired, your employer will determine the degree and type of training you receive. For example, many large restaurant or fast food chains might train you through the use of instructional videos, employee handbooks and questionnaires. You might also start your employment by working under the supervision of another waiter or waitress. Your training will cover customer service, taking orders and dealing with patrons on behalf of your employer. You'll also learn about food safety and sanitation procedures pursuant to your city's or state's public health policies.

Key Skills for SuccessCommunication skills, memory skills, customer-service skills, foreign language skills may be an asset
CertificationDepending on the state or city, a food handler certification may be required to work in the service industry
Degree PossibilitiesCertificates, associate's, and bachelor's degrees in the service industry are available, though they may over-qualify you for a waiter position
Hourly Pay (2018)* $10.47 (for waiters and waitresses)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 7% (for waiters and waitresses)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Can I Prove that I Know How to Handle Food Safely?

Some jurisdictions require you to have food worker or food handler certification to work as a waiter or waitress. Some states mandate a statewide certification, while other states leave food service rules up to individual counties, cities or towns. A city may only require one certified food service worker, generally a manager or supervisor, to be on hand at any given time during business hours. To obtain this card or a similar one where required, you might need to complete a course online or at a testing center. Once you pass the course, you'll receive certification and be eligible to work in that jurisdiction.

Should I Earn a Degree?

You can earn a certificate in food service, an associate's degree in food service or food service management, or a bachelor's degree in a business field with a concentration in food service management. Programs that award degrees or certificates can help you qualify for a management position in a restaurant or prepare you for work as a food service entrepreneur. However, earning a degree or certificate may over-qualify you for a position as a waiter or waitress.

As you complete a degree or certificate program, you'll learn how to plan menus, order materials and perform the basic human resource tasks required to operate a restaurant. You might also learn about hotel or resort operations. Some programs are specifically designed to prepare you to open your own business in the food industry.