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Waiter and Waitress

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Number of Jobs

131,800

Median Salary

$18,540

Unemployment Rate

10.1 percent

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The first-known use of the word “foodie” was in 1982, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. But our obsession with dining out is immemorial – citizens of Pompeii frequented thermopolia, similar to fast food joints where you could purchase ready-to-eat food – and the necessity for food-service professionals is long-standing. There are the cooks who prepare the food, the bartenders who mix the drinks and very importantly, the wait staff who deliver the food and drinks to the hungry customers.

Waiters and waitresses are often the face of a dining establishment, as the personnel who have the most interaction with patrons. Basic duties include greeting customers, taking orders, delivering orders, processing payment and refreshing food stations to begin the cycle all over again, but there’s more finesse and skill involved. Servers are also knowledgeable enough about food and drink to answer questions about the menu and make recommendations, patient enough to triage customer concerns and complaints and coordinated enough to balance heavy trays of steaming hot food through a crowded restaurant. The best in the profession could find themselves working in the most upscale gourmand hubs and earning luxurious tips.

Foodie culture persists, particularly in large cities, and new restaurants crop up at an alarming rate, so there’s a consistent demand for waitstaff. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 131,800 new positions for waiters and waitresses between 2012 and 2022.

Salary

The pay for waiting tables varies greatly, considering waiters and waitresses earn customer tips. Wait staff in an upscale restaurant in San Francisco will most likely take home more cash each night than a waitress at a pie diner in an unincorporated rural area, and it probably comes as no surprise that the highest-paying areas for waiters and waitresses are two large coastal cities – Boston and Seattle. But even though they earn a combination of hourly wages and tips, waiters and waitresses don’t make much money. According to the BLS, servers earned an average hourly wage of $9.95, or about $20,710 for the year. They made a median salary of $18,540 in 2012. The highest-paid earned more than $29,510, and the lowest-paid made less than $16,210.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $21,350
Median $18,540
25th Percentile $17,210

Training

Working as a waiter or waitress is often an entry-level position that doesn’t require any formal training or work experience. Restaurants will provide on-the-job training for new hires, and the poshest eateries might offer classroom training on customer service, food and alcohol safety and regulations, plus formal serving techniques. To work in an establishment that serves alcohol, some counties, cities and states require waiters and waitresses to receive training online or in-person on laws regarding the sales of alcoholic beverages.

Reviews & Advice

Although it’s not necessary, having previous experience waiting tables will make you a more desirable hire at a restaurant. It takes stamina to field customers’ requests and serve food with a smile on your face, so some restaurant managers prefer to employ waiters who know what they’re doing. Newbies must prove that they have excellent communication skills, a pleasant and patient personality and that they’re physically able to handle the demands of the job. Most states also require staff who serve alcoholic drinks to be at least 18 years old, although in some cases you have to be older. 

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility poor Low
Stress Level poor High
Flexibility fair Average
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Last updated by Jada A. Graves.


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