What's the Job Description of a Food Server?

Learn the training required to work as a food server. Find out where food servers, also called waiters and waitresses, work and the median salary for this career. Schools offering Restaurant & Catering Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Food Server?

As a food server, your main priority is to take customers' orders and serve food in a dining establishment. You may find work as a food server in a four-star restaurant or a more casual setting, like a cafeteria or fast food establishment. Food servers must provide excellent customer service and greet their customers in a friendly way. Depending on their place of work food servers may help prepare food, clean eating areas, restock service stations and prepare tables for new guests. Food servers usually work as a part of a team and follow the guidance of a manager.

Review the table below for further information regarding food servers.

Education Required No formal education requirements
Key Responsibilities Greet customers; serve food and drink orders; clean work and dining areas
Job Growth (2014-2024)10%*
Median Salary (2015)$19,580*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What are the Job Duties of a Food Server?

If you work in a full-service restaurant, you may also go by the title of waiter or waitress. Your job is to greet guests, fulfill their drink orders, answer their questions about menu items, take their food orders to the chef and bring out their food from the kitchen when it's complete. You also calculate checks and close the bills for customers.

If you work as a food server in a limited-service restaurant or fast food restaurant, your job duties will be a little different. You often take orders behind a counter and let guests seat themselves. You fill drinks, ring up food orders and place orders on a tray for consumers to carry away to a table. You're typically also responsible for maintaining a neat and sanitized dining area for guests.

What Training Will I Need?

Most restaurants and dining establishments will provide you with training on the job. Some companies will prefer to hire you as a food server if you already have a high school diploma or some experience working in the food service industry. However, many businesses will hire you as an entry-level food server, even if you have little to no experience in the field. In such cases, you often gain your training from food service managers or from senior and more experienced employees.

Some vocational schools, restaurant associations and large restaurant chains offer courses or training programs for food servers who are interested in increasing their skills or moving up in the field. For example, the National Restaurant Association offers career-building educational programs for high school students who are interested in working in the food service industry (www.restaurant.org).

How Might I Advance in the Field?

If you work as a food server at a full-service restaurant, you might be eligible to move up to positions such as bartender, assistant manager and even manager if you put in sufficient hard work. Many employers in the restaurant industry promote from the inside when they have workers who are reliable, motivated and trustworthy. If you work as a food server in a limited-service restaurant or fast food chain, you might also work your way up to a position as a team leader or assistant manager.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

Food preparation and food serving workers held over 12.5 million jobs in the United States in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary in the position in that year was $19,580. The top employers of food servers included restaurants, special food services, traveler accommodations and elementary and secondary schools.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related positions that do not require any formal education, including bartenders, retail sales workers and cashiers. Bartenders prepare alcoholic and mixed drinks for customers who are of age. Retail sales workers sell an array of products and services to consumers of all backgrounds. They may specialize in selling clothing, cars and other retail merchandise. Cashiers are trained to handle the financial transactions between places of business and their customers for goods.

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