Waiters and Waitresses

Quick Facts: Waiters and Waitresses
2017 Median Pay $20,820 per year 
$10.01 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 2,600,500
Job Outlook, 2016-26 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 182,500

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Waiting and Waitressing Career, Salary and Education Information

What waiters and waitresses Do

Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.

Duties of waiters and waitresses

Waiters and waitresses typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, present menus, and explain daily specials to customers

  • Answer questions related to the menu and offer item suggestions

  • Take food and beverage orders from customers

  • Relay food and beverage orders to the kitchen staff

  • Prepare drinks and food garnishes

  • Carry trays of food or drinks from the kitchen to the dining tables

  • Remove dirty dishes and glasses, and clean tables after customers finish meals

  • Prepare itemized checks and take payments from customers

  • Set up dining areas, refill condiments, and stock service areas

Waiters and waitresses, also called servers, are responsible for ensuring that customers have a satisfying dining experience. The specific duties of servers vary with the establishment in which they work.

In casual-dining restaurants that offer simple menu items, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches, servers provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. In fine-dining restaurants, where more complicated meals are typically prepared and served over several courses, waiters and waitresses emphasize personal, attentive treatment at a more leisurely pace. For example, they may offer a wine recommendation with certain foods.

Servers may meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss the menu or specials, review ingredients for potential food allergies, or talk about any food safety concerns. They also discuss coordination between the kitchen and the dining room and review any customer service issues from the previous day or shift.

In establishments where alcohol is served, waiters and waitresses verify the age of customers and ensure that they meet legal requirements for the purchase of alcohol.

Work Environment for waiters and waitresses

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.6 million jobs in 2016. The largest employers of waiters and waitresses were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places: 82%

Traveler accommodation: 6%

Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 3%

Waiters and waitresses are on their feet most of the time and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and drinks. The work can be hectic and fast-paced. During busy dining periods, they may be under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. They must be able to work well as a team with kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Because waiters and waitresses are the front line of customer service in food-service and drinking establishments, appearance is important. Those who work in fine-dining and upscale restaurants may be required to wear uniforms.

Work Schedules for waiters and waitresses

About half of waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2016. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed the vast majority of waiters and waitresses in 2016.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

How to Become a waiter or waitress

Most waiters and waitresses learn through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education or previous work experience is required to enter the occupation.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years of age, but some states require servers to be older. Waiters and waitresses who serve alcohol must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.


No formal education is required to become a waiter or waitress.


Most waiters and waitresses learn through short-term on-the-job-training, usually lasting a few weeks. Trainees typically work with an experienced waiter or waitress, who teaches them basic serving techniques.

Some full-service restaurants provide new employees with some form of classroom training in combination with periods of on-the-job work experience. These training programs communicate the operating philosophy of the restaurant, help new servers establish a rapport with other staff, teach serving techniques, and instill a desire to work as a team. They also discuss customer service situations and the proper ways to handle unpleasant circumstances or unruly customers.

Training for waiters and waitresses in establishments that serve alcohol typically involves learning state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Some states, counties, and cities mandate the training, which typically lasts a few hours and can be taken online or in-house.

Some states may require that any staff who handle food need to take training related to the safe handling of food.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen carefully to customers’ specific requests, ask questions, and relay the information to the kitchen staff, so that orders are prepared to the customers’ satisfaction.

Customer-service skills. Waiters and waitresses spend most of their work time serving customers. They should be friendly and polite and be able to develop a rapport with customers.

Detail oriented. Waiters and waitresses must record customers’ orders accurately. They need to be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to the correct customers.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses spend hours on their feet carrying trays, dishes, and drinks.

Physical strength. Waiters and waitresses need to be able to lift and carry trays or materials that can weigh up to 50 pounds.

salaries for waiters and waitresses

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $10.01 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.27, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.33.


In May 2017, the median hourly wages for waiters and waitresses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Traveler accommodation: $10.80

Arts, entertainment, and recreation: $10.33

Restaurants and other eating places: $9.90

Many waiters and waitresses get their earnings from a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. Earnings vary greatly with the type of establishment and locality. For example, tips are generally much higher in upscale restaurants in major metropolitan areas and resorts.

Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009), which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

According to the FLSA, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with a list of minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Some employers may provide meals and furnish uniforms, but other employers may deduct the cost from wages.

About half of waiters and waitresses worked part time in 2016. Many work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is especially true for those who work in full-service restaurants, which employed the vast majority of waiters and waitresses in 2016.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

Job Outlook for waiters and waitresses

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the population grows and more people dine out, many new restaurants are expected to open. Many establishments, particularly full-service restaurants, will continue to use waiters and waitresses to serve food and beverages and provide customer service.

Job Prospects for waiters and waitresses

Job prospects for waiters and waitresses are expected to be very good, primarily because of the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year. There should be competition for jobs at upscale establishments, however, as potential earnings from tips are greater than at other restaurants and the number of job applicants usually exceeds the number of job openings.

Employment projections data for Waiters and Waitresses, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 2,600,500

Projected Employment, 2026: 2,783,000

Change, 2016-2026: +7%, +182,500

Careers Related to waiters and waitresses


Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.


Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

Flight Attendants

Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers while aboard planes.

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.

Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages. They direct staff to ensure that customers are satisfied with their dining experience, and they manage the business to ensure that it is profitable.

Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers’ payments. There are two types of retail sales workers: retail salespersons, who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles; and parts salespersons, who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts..

BartendersNo formal educational credential$21,690
CashiersNo formal educational credential$21,030
Flight AttendantsHigh school diploma or equivalent$50,500
Food and Beverage Serving and Related WorkersNo formal educational credential$20,410
Retail Sales WorkersNo formal educational credential$23,370
Food Service ManagersHigh school diploma or equivalent$52,030


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Waiters and Waitresses,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/waiters-and-waitresses.htm