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How to Become a Waiter or Waitress

Most waiter and waitress jobs are at the entry level, and workers 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 need to be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.


Although most employers prefer to hire high school graduates, many entrants to these jobs are in their late teens or early twenties and have less than a high school education. Waiter and waitress jobs are a major source of part-time employment for high school and college students, multiple jobholders, and those seeking supplemental incomes.

All new employees receive some training from their employer. For example, workers learn procedures for handling food safely and sanitation practices.

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

Some waiters and waitresses can acquire more skills by attending relevant classes offered by public or private vocational schools, restaurant associations, or large restaurant chains. Although some of these schools help their graduates find jobs, employers are more likely to hire and promote employees on the basis of their people skills and personal qualities than on the basis of their education.

Important Qualities

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

Customer and personal-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 natural rapport with customers.

Good memory. Waiters and waitresses must keep customers’ orders straight. They also should be able to recall the faces, names, and food and drink preferences of frequent customers.

People skills. Waiters and waitresses must be courteous, tactful, and attentive as they deal with customers in all circumstances. For example, they must show that they understand customers’ complaints and that they are able to resolve any issues that arise.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses must be able to spend hours on their feet carrying heavy trays, dishes, and glassware.

Team oriented. Because busy dining hours can be hectic and fast paced, workers must be able to work well as a team to ensure that customers feel welcome and receive prompt service.

Well-groomed and neat appearance. Because waiters and waitresses are the front line of customer service in food service and drinking establishments, a neat appearance is often important.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition