California Occupational Guides

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         What Would I Do?
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Summary Guide for

Waiters and Waitresses in California

May also be called: Banquet Servers; Cocktail Servers; Food Runners; Restaurant Servers; Room Service Servers; and Waitstaff

What Would I Do?

Whether serving patrons in a casual diner or in an upscale restaurant, Waiters and Waitresses represent the front line of customer service in all types of food service establishments. They greet customers, take their orders, serve food and beverages, prepare itemized checks, and sometimes accept payments. They also answer questions, explain menu items and specials, and keep tables and dining areas clean and ready for new diners.

Waiters and Waitresses are on their feet most of the time and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and glassware. During busy dining periods, they are under pressure to serve multiple customers quickly and efficiently. The work is relatively safe, but injuries from slips, cuts, and burns may result from hurrying or mishandling sharp tools and hot objects. Most Waiters and Waitresses work as part of a team, helping coworkers to improve workflow and customer service. They are also expected to dress neatly and may be required to wear uniforms.

Will This Job Fit Me?

Waiters and Waitresses should enjoy working with people and have the physical and mental stamina to work efficiently in fast-paced environments. Friendly and pleasant manners are vital. Tact and patience are also necessary in providing service to all customers, especially those who may be rude or demanding.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Earnings are usually a combination of hourly wages and customer tips. High-end restaurants that have more expensive food and higher table service standards often offer better wages and the opportunity for greater income potential from tips. However, they may also have more rigid employment requirements, such as prior table service experience or higher education attainment than other establishments.

The median wage in 2017 for Waiters and Waitresses in California was $26,162 annually, or $12.58 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

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Annual Wages for 2017Low
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Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2017 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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Benefits vary by employer, but are generally available only to full-time employees. These benefits usually include vacation, sick leave, and medical insurance. Sometimes dental and vision coverage, and retirement plans may also be provided. Many employers offer free meals and furnish uniforms, but some may deduct these costs from employees’ wages.

What is the Job Outlook?

Employment growth is expected for Waiters and Waitresses. Job prospects will be best for those with prior work experience. Opportunities at most food service establishments will be good because many people in these occupations change jobs frequently, creating a large number of openings. However, like many occupations, employment may be sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. Workers in this occupation may experience periods of unemployment or a reduction in hours during economic downturns.

How Do I Qualify?

While there are no specific educational requirements for most Waiter and Waitress jobs, employers generally prefer at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Employers also look for candidates with good customer service and verbal communication skills. Most Servers acquire their skills by observing and working with more experienced workers.

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Learn More About Waiters and Waitresses