Detailed Guide forWaiters 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’ specific duties vary considerably, depending on the establishment. In casual dining restaurants serving more basic foods, such as salads, soups, and sandwiches, Servers are expected to provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. In fine dining restaurants, where multi-course meals are often prepared and served, Waiters and Waitresses provide more formal, personal, and attentive service at a leisurely pace. Waiters and Waitresses usually meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss the menu and any new items or specials, review ingredients for potential food allergies, and talk about any food safety concerns. They also discuss coordination between the kitchen and the dining room and any customer service issues from the previous day or shift. In addition, Waiters and Waitresses check the identification of patrons to ensure they meet the minimum age requirement for the purchase of alcohol products if those items are sold.
Waiters and Waitresses sometimes escort guests to tables, serve customers seated at counters, clear and set up tables, or operate a cash register. However, full-service restaurants frequently hire other staff members, such as hosts and hostesses, cashiers, or dining room attendants, to perform these duties.
Tools and Technology
Waiters and Waitresses use a variety of tools in the course of their work, including coffee makers, blenders, portable bar code scanners, cash registers, credit card processing machines, paging equipment, personal digital assistants (PDA), point of sale (POS) printers and terminals, and touch screen monitors. Some may also use POS software.
Important Tasks and Related Skills
Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.
|View the skill definitions|
|Task||Skill Used in this Task|
|Prepare tables for meals, including setting up items such as linens, silverware, and glassware.||Information Ordering|
|Present menus to patrons and answer questions about menu items, making recommendations upon request.||Oral Expression|
|Write patrons' food orders on order slips, memorize orders, or enter orders into computers for transmittal to kitchen staff.||Active Listening|
|Perform food preparation duties such as preparing salads, appetizers, and cold dishes, portioning desserts, and brewing coffee.||Food Production|
|Check with customers to ensure that they are enjoying their meals and take action to correct any problems.||Customer and Personal Service|
|Prepare checks that itemize and total meal costs and sales taxes.||Service Orientation|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Information Ordering||The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).|
|Oral Expression||The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.|
|Active Listening||Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.|
|Food Production||Knowledge of techniques and equipment for planting, growing, and harvesting food products (both plant and animal) for consumption, including storage/handling techniques.|
|Customer and Personal Service||Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.|
|Service Orientation||Actively looking for ways to help people.|
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 or 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.
Due to the varied business needs of establishments that employ Waiters and Waitresses, they may be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Many Servers work part time or fewer than 30 hours a week, although some are employed full time. In restaurants that operate 24 hours a day, Waiters and Waitresses may work nights, weekends, or split shifts.
Most Waiters and Waitresses are not unionized. However, in some large restaurants and hotels, Waiters and Waitresses may belong to unions, such as Unite HERE and the Service Employees International Union.
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. Servers also need a good memory to keep track of customers’ orders and remember faces, names, and preferences of frequent patrons. Generally, Waiters and Waitresses need to work effectively in teams and be very organized.
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 2016 for Waiters and Waitresses in California is $23,729 annually, or $11.41 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
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. Competition is expected for jobs in popular restaurants and fine dining establishments where potential earnings from tips are greatest. Demand for this job may increase seasonally during certain periods when restaurants have increased business. 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.
Projections of Employment
In California, the number of Waiters and Waitresses is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Waiters and Waitresses are expected to increase by 18.0 percent, or 44,200 jobs between 2012 and 2022.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
Waiters and Waitresses
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 4,420 new job openings per year is expected for Waiters and Waitresses, plus an additional 11,840 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 16,260 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
Waiters and Waitresses
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|View Data for All Areas|
How Do I Qualify?
Education, Training, and Other Requirements
While there are no specific educational requirements for most Waiter and Waitress jobs, most employers prefer at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Employers also look for candidates with good customer service and verbal communication skills. New employees may receive some on-the-job training through self-study programs, online programs, audiovisual presentations, and instructional booklets that explain food preparation and service skills. However, most Servers acquire their skills by observing and working with more experienced workers. Some full-service restaurants provide new hires with both classroom and on-the-job training.
Senate Bill 602, the California Food Handler Card law, requires all restaurant employees to receive a practical level of food safety practices training to reduce foodborne illness. New hires must take an online or classroom course and pass a food handler test with a minimum score of 70 percent to get a California Food Handler Card within 30 days from the date of hire.
Experience varies by employer; however, entry-level positions usually require little or no previous work experience, although experience in food handling and customer service will be helpful.
Early Career Planning
High school preparation should include courses in basic mathematics, keyboarding, and English. Basic computer knowledge is becoming increasingly important since many restaurants now use computer systems. Foreign language classes may also be helpful as the ability to speak more than one language can be an asset for communicating with a diverse clientele and staff.
Some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) may offer introductory courses in food service and restaurant careers. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.
Several certificates exist for Waiters and Waitresses, such as the Skill Certification for Banquet Server offered by the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute. A certification can demonstrate to an employer that the Server has additional skills and knowledge beyond his or her experience. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.
Where Would I Work?
The largest industries employing Waiters and Waitresses are as follows:
|Industry Title||Percent of Total Employment for Occupation in California|
|Full-Service Restaurants ||82.3%|
|Other Amusement & Recreation Industries ||2.4%|
|Employment Services ||1.8%|
|Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages) ||1.7%|
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 www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).
Yellow Page Headings
You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Waiters and Waitresses.
- Fast Food Restaurants
- Steak Houses
Find Possible Employers
To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:
- Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
- Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
- Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
- Contact the employer for possible employment.
Where Could This Job Lead?
Due to the relatively small size of most food service establishments, opportunities for promotion are limited. Some Servers find jobs in busier or more expensive restaurants where prospects for tip earnings are more likely. After gaining experience, some Waiters and Waitresses advance to supervisory jobs, such as dining room supervisor, maître d', assistant manager, or restaurant general manager. In larger restaurant chains, Waiters and Waitresses who excel may be invited to participate in the company’s formal management training program. Some Waiters and Waitresses may open their own businesses.
Below is a list of occupations related to Waiters and Waitresses with links to more information.
|Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food||Profile|
|Counter and Rental Clerks||Profile|
|First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation and Serving Workers||Guide|
|Food Preparation Workers||Profile|
|Locker Room, Coatroom, and Dressing Room Attendants||Profile|
|Stock Clerks and Order Fillers||Guide|
These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.
For the Career Professional
The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.