What Does a Food Server Do? (Qualifications and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 2 December 2022

Published 1 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Food servers, also known as wait staff, waiters or waitresses, have fascinating jobs. They get to explore many different roles within the restaurant environment and play a central role in many hospitality businesses. Learning more about this career path could help you determine if it might be the right one for you. In this article, we'll explain what a food server does, provide you with a list of common duties and responsibilities, tell you about the qualifications that are needed and also the salary expectations.

What does a food server do?

If you're interested in a restaurant career, you may have asked yourself, 'What does a food server do?' Food servers (more commonly known as wait staff) work in restaurants and provide excellent customer service through their professional catering skills. They welcome guests and work with other waiters and runners to communicate the customer's needs to kitchen staff.

They usually engage in a friendly conversation to make customers feel comfortable, convey any food allergies or nutritional needs to the cook, deliver food at the right temperature and carefully listen to complaints. In some small restaurants or catering businesses, food servers may also offer recommendations, keep glasses filled and prepare drinks and desserts like ice cream sundaes and milkshakes.

Duties and responsibilities of a food server

Food servers often perform multiple tasks at once. Their exact duties depend on the restaurant they're working at, but their common duties may include:

  • Taking food and beverage orders, noting allergies and accurately entering them into the ordering system

  • Greeting and seating the guests

  • Cleaning and preparing tables

  • Responding to customers' special requests and making arrangements

  • Restocking items like silverware, napkins, cups and straws

  • Keeping a waitlist

  • Processing customer payments

  • Making menu recommendations

  • Memorising the ingredients of popular food items

  • Addressing any customer service issues and referring to the correct management personnel if needed

  • Cleaning and organising the floor and bar area

  • Refilling drinks during meals

  • Checking up on customers in case they need something

  • Directing customers to different areas of the business, like the toilets

Job requirements

As a food server you need to have a good memory and enjoy working with people. You have to ensure that your customers are enjoying their meals and take the necessary actions to fix problems immediately.

Education and training

Many food servers have high school educations, and some may have completed higher education or specialised courses. When hiring staff, most employers look at whether applicants have any relevant experience and on-the-job training. They do this because they want to make sure that the candidate will easily transition into the new restaurant environment.

Food server candidates with many years of experience in the business are more likely to get jobs at reputable restaurants than employees with only 1–3 years of experience. In some cases, having a Responsible Service of Alcohol Certification (RSA) and any other hospitality certification can also increase your chances of finding a job.

Experience

Entry-level job applicants may be eligible for on-the-job training with lower pay, which will allow them to gain experience and explore opportunities in the hospitality industry. Most restaurant managers prefer experienced employees to take care of the most important tasks. Having relevant experience in the same industry or role also helps you adjust to the new role and saves time in the training process.

Food server skills

Most restaurants use advanced technology and equipment to take orders, tally up bills and carry out other calculations on your behalf. Having a basic knowledge of these machines, along with other hospitality skills, will make your work easier. Below are some of the skills that may help you to become an efficient food server:

Memorisation skills

Having excellent memorisation skills can help you remember the menu, the names and faces of regular customers, the restaurant's history and deliver orders to the right people. Usually, the manager will give you a menu and some information about the business to learn within a certain timeframe. Later, they may test you to make sure you remember everything.

Teamwork skills

Teamwork skills are crucial in the hospitality business. For example, you may have to take over someone else's table, help entry-level staff understand their duties and responsibilities, work with the chef to prepare meals and distribute tasks to food runners to keep everything running smoothly. These duties become easier when you work together as a team and resolve customer service concerns together, creating a pleasant experience for you and your customers.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples

Communication skills

Communication skills can help you convey ideas and orders to the kitchen staff, customers, hosts and the management team. This includes listening to customer complaints, questions, comments and concerns and accurately either solving them yourself or referring them to someone who knows more. For example, customers may ask you about the ingredients in certain dishes.

Related: Understanding and Overcoming Common Communication Barriers With Examples

Customer service skills

Most food server duties are focused on creating a unique customer experience and settling customer service issues. If you do your job well, you can increase your tips and income and improve your relationship with customers. Good customer service skills can be learned through experience and by observing more experienced servers and managers.

Related: 17 Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples

Multi-tasking

During a shift, food servers greet customers, take orders, deliver food and drinks to tables, receive feedback, deliver bills to tables and sanitise stock supplies, all while staying welcoming and friendly. In other words, it helps if you can multi-task in a busy environment and keep your cool during the dinner rush.

Related: Time Management Skills: The Importance of Including Them in Your Resume

Career advancement for food servers

Most food servers have great potential to advance their careers and move up to higher positions, like supervisor or manager. Skills like multi-tasking, being outgoing and having the ability to provide exceptional customer service in a fast-paced environment are very useful in the hospitality sector.

Food server salary expectations

The average salary of food servers in Australia is $27.93 per hour. This amount may vary depending on experience, the type of business, and any training of qualifications you might have. In the very beginning, it's best to keep your salary range flexible to give employers a good impression and explore opportunities for promotions in the future.

Frequently asked questions about food servers

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about food servers (with answers):

What are the qualities of a successful food server?

A good food server gives individual attention to each guest and offers highly professional services to ensure customer satisfaction. As food servers take care of many tables at once, having exceptional multi-tasking skills and patience can help you stay productive on the job. Good food servers are also aware of maintaining quality and staying graceful under pressure and with frustrated customers.

What's the difference between a food server and a runner?

Typically, food servers are mainly responsible for taking orders and 'serving' the food to the right customer, while runners clear tables after customers have left and bring the dishes back to the kitchen. You will also see runners providing extra support to food servers and waiters during the lunch and dinner rush, and even delivering food under the supervision of the food server.

Do servers cook food?

Cooking can depend on the restaurant you're working at. For example, if there's a shortage of staff, food servers may be called upon to prepare ingredients, cook them according to allergy restrictions and serve them to the respective guests. But this is not the case in most of the larger hospitality businesses.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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