Tips and tricks to getting a job as a Server
Working in the industry as a server can be both physically and mentally challenging, but it can also be very rewarding. Long shifts on your feet and constant motion take physical stamina and working regularly with customers, remembering orders, and completing other responsibilities you’re expected to do during your shift take exceptional customer service skills and mental capacity.
On the other hand, working with other servers and staff, developing relationships with customers, and being in a fast-paced environment can be rewarding, exciting and even fun.
Here’s information about what a server does, how to become one, qualities and skills you’ll need, and other information about the job as a whole.
Servers are responsible for serving food and drinks to customers and ensuring they have a positive and pleasant dining experience. Servers are often the primary point of contact for customers, and the majority of their role focuses on providing exceptional customer service.
However, taking care of customers is not a server’s only task. They also take care of a number of other cleaning, organizing, stocking and managing responsibilities.
Take food and drink orders.
Enter orders into a Point of Sale (POS) system or relay to the kitchen.
Answer customers’ questions and assist them during their dining experience.
Serve food and drinks to customers.
Clean and prepare tables.
Process customer payments.
Seat customers or keep a waitlist.
Restock items such as cups, napkins, straws, and silverware.
Clean and organize the floor or bar area where customers wait or dine.
In the U.S., servers must be at least 16 years old. To serve alcoholic beverages, servers must be 18 or older.
There are primarily two steps to take to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a server:
Education. For most serving roles, there is no education requirement. Many restaurants will hire servers as long as they’ve completed some high school, though some may require a high school diploma or GED.
Some states, including Washington, Oregon, Honolulu, and Alaska, require certification for those who serve alcohol. These programs teach about how to recognize intoxicated customers, how to handle unruly customers, how to refuse service, how to check identifications and other procedures and laws regarding alcohol serving and consumption.
Experience. Most training and skills needed to be successful as a server comes with on-the-job experience. When working as a server, you learn how to perform the tasks a server is responsible for while also following employer policies and procedures.
Some of the most important things you’ll learn on the job include:
Customer service skills, such as addressing customers, taking and processing orders, answering questions, and processing payments.
Serving skills, like juggling multiple tables, delivering food, memorizing menu information and orders, etc.
Food handling, such as food prep, storing food, washing hands, and avoiding cross-contamination.
Sanitization guidelines, such as how to properly clean and sanitize dishes and tables.
Safety procedures, such as how to handle incidents like spills or broken glass, difficult or intoxicated customers, etc.
Important qualities and skills
There are several qualities and skills a good server will have to be successful including:
Basic math. While many people primarily use credit cards, you’ll be required to work with cash regularly. You should be able to calculate proper change without the need for a calculator, as well as calculate percentages of discounts and coupons.
POS/computer skills. Most restaurants have a Point of Sale or POS, a system that servers use to enter orders, generate receipts, and cash out tables. You should be able to know or quickly learn where everything is located within the POS, how to enter orders, cash-out tables, attribute discounts or coupons, remove and delete items from an order, etc.
Memorization. The ability to memorize the restaurant food and drink menu, the restaurant’s history, and even remember regular customers and their orders or preferences can all help make you a successful server.
Communication. You should have the skill to communicate well with customers, other servers, kitchen staff, hosts and hostesses, and management. This includes listening to orders, questions, concerns, and comments, plus understanding customer needs, while being able to relay that information to kitchen staff or other employees.
Flexibility. As a server, you’ll be asked to be flexible in several situations such as day-to-day schedules and shifts, covering for other shifts, and assisting in other parts of the restaurant like the kitchen or bar. Food and drink items may also change - sometimes mid-shift - so flexibility can be key.
Customer service. Much of a server’s success revolves around providing exceptional customer service. Taking care of your customers and ensuring they have a positive dining experience can not only affect your tips and take-home income but also the likelihood they will return to dine again.
Conflict resolution. Resolving conflicts can be an important skill when serving. You won’t always have a manager to help you with issues that arise, so the ability to fix the problem yourself - while ensuring the customer feels heard and taken care of - can be a great skill.
Teamwork. Teamwork skills are important not only to you but for everyone around you. You may have to cover a table for another server, help another server with taking orders or delivering food or drinks, or clean another section. Many other server responsibilities, like washing dishes, filling ice, stocking supplies, and rolling silverware, require working together as a team.
Multi-tasking. During a shift, you may have to help seat customers, take orders, deliver food and drinks, check on tables, cash tables out, clean and sanitize stock supplies, and more. Having a strong ability to multi-task can show you’re able to successfully handle all of the responsibilities you may have as a server.
Servers may work full-time or part-time, and hours can vary based on where you work. Mornings, days, evening, night, and weekend hours are common, as are holidays.
Most serving shifts are organized around the most popular dining times - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bars or restaurants that serve alcohol may remain open later, even until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., though they may not open until the afternoon. On the other hand, buffet-style restaurants may open early for breakfast and close shortly after dinner, or cafe locations may close shortly after lunch.
Most advancement opportunities are available for servers who have worked for a long time at the same facility. These opportunities could be moving to a supervisor or management position. Sometimes servers are allowed to work as a bartender.
That said, the skills a server has and perfects are often transferable to other careers. The ability to provide exceptional customer service, be outgoing and sociable, multi-task, work in fast-paced environments and problem solve are all skills that transfer well to other roles. Other careers servers tend to do well in include sales, customer service, the management, or working in a retail environment.
In addition to the skills listed above, many of which are desirable for several jobs, there are other transferable skills you gain from serving such as:
Quality awareness and assurance.
Payment processing (both cash and cards).