Essentials for Being a Waiter

Waiters serve an important role in the food and beverage industry. They are the main contact between the customer and the kitchen or bar, taking orders, delivering food and drinks and ensuring that the customer's needs are met.

Because waiters rely on tips for a large portion of their earnings, they must provide satisfactory service to earn a decent living. A waiter might work in a past-faced atmosphere such as a nightclub or in a more formal, slower-paced setting such as a fine dining restaurant. To become a successful waiter, you must have certain skills.

Waiter Salary

A waiter is a tipped employee, but tips are not his only source of income. The U.S. Department of Labor requires that tipped employees receive no less than $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount and their tips equal at least the federal minimum wage. If not, the employer must make up the variance.

Some states require a higher direct hourly wage. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for waiters and waitresses as of May 2011 was $11 per hour, or $22,890 per year. As a waiter, you must be comfortable relying on tips for a large part of your income. Also, because you are on your feet all the time, it helps to be in good physical condition.

Be a People Person

A waiter is always in contact with people. You must greet and serve your patrons in a way that lets them know their needs will be attended to. According to, a best practice is to always wpproach them in a confident, friendly and helpful manner. To build a rapport with them, you must become proficient at small talk.

You will know soon enough if they are the kinds of customers who prefer a lot of contact, or if they are the kind who like to be served quietly and efficiently with few interruptions. It helps to develop an intuition about customers and what they look for in a waiter. You should also have a desire to help others because that's your main job.

Be an Effective Listener

A successful waiter is an effective listener, according to You are responsible for taking your customers’ orders and relaying the orders to cooks and bartenders. You will occasionally be asked for special orders to accommodate customers with food allergies or for some other reason. When this happens, you must get specific information from the customer, such as no dairy products in a meal, and let the kitchen staff know the precise details.

This means you must also know how the dishes and drinks on the menu are prepared, including their ingredients. In some cases you might be required to prepare and serve your customers’ drinks. At times, you will be asked to serve a large group of people, which requires you to accurately take down several orders at once.

If you fail to take correct orders, your guests will not be happy. Active listening means you give clients your full attention. Listen carefully to what they tell you and don't interrupt them. Ask appropriate questions and request clarification when necessary.

Be Socially Aware

You must be socially aware or perceptive enough to spot reactions in your guests and to understand why they behave as they do. For example, suppose you serve a client his meal. After taking his first bite, he makes an unpleasant face. You ask him his opinion of the meal and he gives a forced smile and says that it’s fine. However, you know that his original reaction said otherwise. You cannot force the customer to admit his displeasure, though you can ask him if he would like to try something else.

In this example, it would be wise to let your manager know that the client seemed unhappy with the food. Your manager can in turn look into the issue. You should also keep an eye out for all your customers, even when you are serving someone else. Their facial expressions and body language can tell you a lot about their dining experience.

If they are looking around for you, it's usually a sign that they need something. If they are shaking their heads and frowning, it's a sign that something is wrong. In both cases, stop by their table as soon as possible to see what they need.

Have Good Time Management Skills

Time and organization are critical elements of being a successful waiter. Most guests expect immediate service. They do not understand that you have other tables to wait on and that it takes time to prepare their meals.

Learn the time that it typically takes the cooking staff to prepare the different dishes so you can give guests a realistic time frame as to when their food will be ready. Allow guests enough time to finish one course before sending out the next one, but remain attentive to them.

A few minutes of waiting feels like a long time to your guests, so try not to keep them waiting for more than five minutes before visiting their table to see if they need anything, such as a beverage refill. Multitasking is also a useful skill. For example, if you have two tables that need small items, fill up a tray with the goods that both tables need and make one trip instead of two.

Education Requirements

Waiter jobs might require a GED certificate or a high school diploma. Some employers might require only some high school, provided you are trainable. Other employers might require that you take a formal training course to obtain a license. This is particularly true if you will be serving alcohol.