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What Does a Food Server Do?

Servers may seat patrons.
Food servers must be able to explain the menu to their customers.
Servers who wait tables at restaurants rely on customer tips to augment low hourly wages.
Food servers might work in cafeterias.
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  • Written By: K. Testa
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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A food server, traditionally called a waiter or waitress in a full-service restaurant, typically takes orders for food and beverages from customers and then serves them the requested items. A food server job description can also entail both preparing and serving food at various other types of venues. Some examples might include fast food restaurants, cafes, and hotels. A food server’s pay may be a combination of an hourly wage and tips from customers, with tips often comprising the majority of his or her earnings.

The food server’s job responsibilities can vary, depending on the location. In a restaurant, for example, his or her basic duties usually begin with greeting customers as they arrive or as they are seated at tables. Servers might offer menus and describe the restaurant’s specialty dishes, answering any specific questions a customer might ask. They take food and beverage orders, relaying them to the kitchen staff. After serving the prepared foods, they might follow up with the customers to ensure a pleasant dining experience. Servers frequently clear dishes from the table, as well. They normally present the customers with their bills and often process their payments.

Many restaurant food servers work in demanding and sometimes stressful environments. They are nearly always standing, and often have to carry food trays and other heavy items, requiring some degree of physical strength and coordination. In busy restaurants, servers may be responsible for several tables full of patrons, and they must either write everything down or remember specific customer requests.

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Food server job requirements may vary in other settings. In contrast to servers at full-service restaurants, for example, employees at most fast food establishments and cafes often have to both prepare and serve the food to customers. Many of them work behind a counter, and some of their typical duties might be to assemble sandwiches or meals, as well as to make any requested beverages. Additional examples of some other types of places where someone might serve food include hotels, hospitals, cafeterias, and concession stands.

Many young people, especially teenagers, work in the food service industry. To be a food server, little formal education is usually required. Many establishments require employees to have reached a certain age and to have attended at least some high school. On-the-job training is usually offered to new servers, who generally learn customer service tips, as well as food handling and safety procedures. Other traits or skills required of servers normally include a pleasant personality, attention to detail, and the ability to follow instructions.

Food service is typically part-time work, making it ideal for students, or as supplemental income for someone with another job. Potential earnings usually include an hourly wage, plus tips for servers in full-service restaurants. Unless the person works full time as a server, the tips may not be enough to sustain him or her. Another consideration is that most types of employee benefits are generally not available to part-time workers. Therefore, many food servers have more than one job.

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anon346250
Post 6

@sara84: So you believe a person is only valued by the education they receive, even if they run and clean hard every day? A piece of paper can justify someone's knowledge in a field they've worked in for years longer than a kid right out of college. You do know the average pay for a server is $3.80 an hour. And if customers are only tipping five to ten and they only make fifty bucks for six hours of work and then clean, set tables, roll silverware, sweep, mop floors and clean all other necessary areas, that $3.80 an hour is worthy for the hour to hour and a half of cleaning is fair?

Sounds like you've never worked in a restaurant or even customer service before. Real restaurant workers are the most taken advantage of employees, often taken advantage of by employers and unappreciated by customers.

They work long hours, late hours, 3 p.m. to 4 a.m. (two hours of cleaning, mopping, sweeping, arranging tables, etc.) and some even work 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with no overtime, no benefits, no paid vacations, no matter how long they've been at the establishment. Some (I know for me) don't even get a percentage off food if they'd like to eat, no actual breaks in eight hour shifts (maybe one five minute break outside if they'd like to smoke). Sometimes they deal with abusive, rude customers and extensive cleaning, no matter how many customers are in the restaurant or how much they are tipped,

anon304149
Post 5

Thank you Vaclav for your wonderful comments about how servers should be treated. I'm a truck stop food server. I appreciate every tip I get. Again, thank you.

anon259411
Post 3

I have been serving for 22 years. As an African-American, I have been constantly exposed to one embarrassing revelation. My brothers and sisters more often than not, will not tip. Why must this be so?

Sara84
Post 2

@Vaclav- I think food servers are paid fairly for their work. I agree that they work hard, but they can have little education to work in their field. They can even not have a GED and work as a food server.

Have you ever saw a food server resume? Some of them have 1 job listed as prior work experience, or no jobs at all. Sometimes a food server job is a person's first job. In fact, a lot of college students work as a food server while attending classes.

So when you factor all these facts in, the pay per hour for a food server is justified. I do wish that people tipped more often though. It is just the right thing to do.

Vaclav
Post 1

A food server has got to be one of the most under appreciated jobs there is. These people work hard and get little compensation. Some people do not leave tips, and they do not make even minimum wage at the end of the night.

Food server duties cover more than just serving food too. They have to collect dirty dishes, clean the tables, and greet and seat people too. These people definitely deserve an hourly pay raise in my opinion.

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