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How to Become a Server

By Ajoke Aminu

Published:

Did you assume becoming a server involves only taking orders and delivering food?

Your understanding is not quite accurate as server responsibilities extend beyond these chores. This article will provide you with tips and valuable insight into how to become a server, including different server skills, along with answering the frequently asked question: “How much does a server make?” 

Career Summary

How Much Does a Server Make? 

Server Salary

If you’re wondering how much does a server make in the US, you’ll be relieved to hear that it’s not all peanuts and pocket change. However, it’s also not enough to make it rain on a Saturday night at the club. The answer varies based on factors such as location, type of establishment, and level of experience, but according to Glassdoor, the estimates are: 

  • Entry Salary (US$39k)
  • Median Salary (US$51k)
  • Executive Salary (US$68k)

To put things in perspective, a server’s salary is generally considered a low to mid-income range, depending on the state they’re working in and the nature of the establishment they’re serving at.

What is a Server?

A server works in the hospitality industry, ensuring a positive dining experience by taking customer orders, delivering food and drinks, and addressing customer needs and inquiries. They are also responsible for maintaining a clean and organized dining area, processing payments, and ensuring customer satisfaction. 

Server Career Progression 

  • Server Assistant/Busser: Assists servers with table setup, clearing dishes, refilling water glasses, and ensuring a clean dining area.
  • Lead Server/Head Waiter: Takes on supervisory responsibilities, including coordinating the serving staff, managing reservations, and resolving customer issues.
  • Assistant Manager or Supervisor: Assist with restaurant management tasks, such as inventory control, staff training, and shift scheduling.
  • Restaurant Supervisor/Manager: Oversees daily operations, manages staff, handles scheduling, and ensures quality service and customer satisfaction.
  • Restaurant Owner/Entrepreneur: Establishes and operates their own restaurant, overseeing all aspects of the business, including financial management, menu development, and customer relations.
Server Career Progression

The Pros and Cons of Working as a Server

Pros:

  • Potential for earning tips and increasing income based on performance.
  • Developing strong customer service and communication skills.
  • Exposure to different cuisines and culinary experiences.
  • Interaction with diverse customers and building relationships.
  • Opportunity to work in a dynamic and fast-paced environment.

Cons:

  • Dealing with demanding or difficult customers.
  • Long hours, including weekends, evenings, and holidays.
  • Physical demands, such as standing for extended periods and carrying heavy trays.
  • Reliance on tips, which can be unpredictable.
  • High-pressure situations during busy periods.

Useful Skills to Have as a Server 

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Ability to multitask and work efficiently under pressure.
  • Attention to detail and accuracy in taking orders and handling payments.
  • Problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
  • Knowledge of food and beverages, including menu items and drink pairings.

Popular Server Specialties 

  • Fine Dining Server
  • Banquet Server
  • Wine Server / Sommelier
  • Cocktail Server
  • Room Service Server

How to Become a Server

Server 4 Steps to Career

Servers often work as part of a team and collaborate with other staff members, such as kitchen staff and bartenders, to ensure smooth operations and efficient service. Whether you aspire to work in a fine dining establishment, a bustling café, or a lively bar, we will show you precisely how to become a server in four steps—from acquiring relevant server skills to gaining experience.  

Step 1: Get a Suitable Education

When pursuing a career as a server, obtaining a suitable education can play a crucial role in enhancing your skills and increasing your employability. While a formal degree is not typically required, there are various educational options available that can provide you with the knowledge and training necessary to excel in the industry. From hospitality and culinary programs to specialized courses focused on food and beverage service, investing in a server education can help you develop a solid foundation and gain a competitive edge in this dynamic field.

There are a few key server skills, responsibilities, and qualifications that you should be prepared to demonstrate to excel in the role. If you prioritize education, consider taking specialized courses or workshops in areas such as wine knowledge, mixology, or customer service to broaden your expertise and stay competitive in the industry.

Here are some alternatives you can consider:

  • Hospitality or Culinary Programs: Pursuing a certificate, diploma, or degree in hospitality management or culinary arts can provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the industry. These programs often cover topics such as food and beverage service, customer service, menu planning, and restaurant operations. While not specifically focused on serving, these programs can provide a broader foundation in the hospitality industry.
  • Vocational or Trade Schools: Some vocational or trade schools offer specific programs or courses in food and beverage service. These programs typically focus on practical skills necessary for serving, such as table setup, order taking, carrying trays, and beverage service. They may also cover topics like food safety and sanitation.
  • Online Courses and Certifications: There are numerous online courses and certifications available that can help you develop specific skills related to serving. These courses often cover customer service techniques, menu knowledge, wine or cocktail basics, and responsible alcohol service. Online platforms, such as Udemy or Coursera, offer a variety of relevant courses that you can complete at your own pace.
  • On-the-Job Training: Many restaurants and hospitality establishments provide on-the-job training for servers. This training typically includes learning specific procedures, menu items, and service standards of the establishment. While practical experience is valuable, keep in mind that the depth and quality of training can vary depending on the employer. 

Here’s what you need to become a server:

  • High school diploma or equivalent.
  • Basic skills, such as strong communication skills, and customer service skills.
  • Knowledge of food, ingredients, and beverages.
  • Training and certifications.
  • Experience.
  • Physical stamina.
  • Positive attitude and adaptability.

The Importance of Getting an Education as a Server | Including Duration & Costs 

Although it’s not a requirement, obtaining relevant education and training can offer several benefits and enhance your career prospects in the field:

  • Servers with an education tend to earn more than those without an education. This is because employers value the knowledge and skills that servers with education have, such as customer service skills, food and beverage knowledge, and safety procedures.
  • Servers with an education can advance their careers by moving into management positions or becoming sommeliers or food and beverage directors.
  • Education can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to be a successful server. This includes knowledge about food and beverage, customer service, and safety procedures.
  • It equips you to adapt to industry changes and customer preferences.
  • Education can help you network with other professionals in the hospitality industry. This can help you find new jobs and advance your career.
  • It can help you increase your job satisfaction by giving you a better understanding of the hospitality industry and the role of servers.

Duration & Costs 

The duration and costs of server education vary depending on the type of education or training you pursue. It’s important to research and consider the specific requirements and duration of the educational options you are interested in. Factors such as program structure, intensity, and the number of hours dedicated to learning can affect the overall timeline. Additionally, part-time or online options may offer more flexibility in terms of balancing your education with other commitments.

Regardless, here are some common options and their typical durations:

  • Certificate/Diploma Programs: These programs specifically designed for food and beverage service can range from a few weeks to several months. The duration depends on the intensity and depth of the program. 
  • Culinary or Hospitality Degrees: Pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in culinary arts or hospitality management may take two to four years to complete, depending on the program and whether it’s full-time or part-time. 
  • Vocational or Trade School Programs: Vocational or trade school programs focused on food and beverage service can vary in duration. Some may be completed in a month, while others may take up to a year or more. The average cost for this route is US$4,200
  • Online Courses and Certifications: Online courses and certifications are often self-paced, allowing you to complete them at your own speed. Depending on the program’s length and intensity, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to finish. 

Step 2: Hone Server Skills 

Honing your skills has become more important than ever because improving your abilities can help you stand out from the crowd and achieve your goals. Luckily, there are many ways to develop your server skills, from taking internships to seeking out mentors and practicing on your own. You can also challenge yourself to constantly learn and grow, embracing new experiences and taking on new server responsibilities. 

Essential Server Skills that You Must Have 

Every server needs valuable skills that are essential for providing excellent customer service and ensuring a smooth dining experience. These skills, combined with experience and a positive attitude, contribute to your success as a server and can be transferable to other customer service-oriented roles in the hospitality industry.

Here are some key skills you can expect to learn and enhance as a server:

  • Customer Service: Serving requires exceptional customer service skills. You will learn how to greet and interact with customers in a friendly and professional manner, address their needs and inquiries, handle complaints or difficult situations diplomatically, and ensure their overall satisfaction.
  • Communication: Effective communication is crucial in the server role. You will learn how to listen attentively to customers, take accurate orders, convey information clearly, communicate with kitchen staff, collaborate with colleagues, and effectively upsell or recommend menu items.
  • Menu Knowledge: Servers develop a thorough understanding of the menu offerings, including ingredients, preparation methods, and potential allergens. You will learn to describe menu items in an enticing manner, answer customers’ questions about the dishes, and make appropriate recommendations based on their preferences.
  • Food and Beverage Service: Serving involves mastering various food and beverage service techniques. You will learn how to set tables, take orders accurately and efficiently, serve food and beverages with proper etiquette, handle trays and plates, and ensure the correct timing of courses.
  • Time Management: Efficient time management is essential in a fast-paced restaurant environment. As a server, you will learn how to prioritize tasks, multitask effectively, manage your time between tables, and maintain a smooth flow of service while attending to multiple customers’ needs.
  • Problem-Solving: Servers often encounter unexpected challenges or customer requests. You will develop problem-solving skills to handle such situations, find suitable solutions, and make quick decisions while maintaining a positive attitude and minimizing any disruptions to the dining experience.
  • Attention to Detail: Paying attention to detail is crucial in ensuring accuracy and providing a high level of service. You will learn to take precise orders, check orders for accuracy before serving, pay attention to special requests or dietary restrictions, and ensure tables are properly set and clean.
  • Teamwork: Collaboration and teamwork are essential in a restaurant setting. Servers work closely with kitchen staff, bartenders, hosts/hostesses, and other servers. You will learn to communicate effectively with the team, assist colleagues when needed, and work together to deliver seamless service.
  • Stress Management: The server role can be demanding and fast-paced, especially during peak hours. You will learn to manage stress and remain calm under pressure, prioritize tasks effectively, and maintain a positive attitude to provide excellent service even in challenging situations.
  • Upselling and Sales Techniques: Upselling is an important aspect of serving. You will learn techniques to suggest additional menu items, promote specials or featured dishes, and enhance the overall dining experience for customers while increasing sales for the restaurant.

How Online Education Can Boost Your Server Skills

Online education can play a significant role in boosting your server skills by providing convenient and accessible opportunities for learning and professional development. By taking advantage of online education, you can continuously develop your skills, expand your knowledge base, and stay competitive in the ever-changing hospitality industry. It offers a flexible and accessible pathway for professional growth, ultimately leading to improved job performance and enhanced career opportunities.

Here are some ways online education can enhance your server skills:

  • Specialized Courses: Online platforms often offer specialized courses tailored to the needs of servers. These courses cover topics such as wine pairing, mixology, menu design, customer service techniques, and hospitality management. By enrolling in these courses, you can acquire in-depth knowledge and skills in specific areas relevant to the profession.
  • Ongoing Learning Opportunities: The hospitality industry is constantly evolving, with new trends, techniques, and technologies emerging. Online education provides opportunities for continuous learning and professional development. You can access updated content, enroll in advanced courses, or explore new areas of interest to stay ahead in the field.
  • Recognition and Credentials: Online courses and certifications often provide participants with completion certificates or digital badges that can be showcased on resumes or professional profiles. These credentials validate your commitment to ongoing learning and demonstrate your proficiency in specific skills, making you more attractive to employers and enhancing your career prospects.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Server Skills?

There are several web resources available that can help you learn and improve your server skills. We have researched and evaluated the credibility and quality of these web resources for you to use to learn server skills. 

Here are some reputable and useful web resources for learning server skills:

  • National Restaurant Association (NRA): The NRA offers a variety of resources, including online courses and certifications, on topics such as food safety, responsible alcohol service, and customer service. Their ServSafe program is widely recognized in the industry.
  • American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI): AHLEI provides online training and certifications for hospitality professionals, including courses focused on food and beverage service, guest service, and front office operations.
  • Hospitality School: Hospitality School is a website that offers resources and courses covering various aspects of the hospitality industry, including server skills, food and beverage service, menu planning, and more. It can be a helpful source of information and tips for servers.
  • Learn2Serve: Learn2Serve provides online food and beverage service training and certifications. They offer courses in responsible alcohol service, food safety, and hospitality skills development.

Step 3: Leverage Internships 

There’s no better way to gain valuable experience and practical know-how than by pursuing an internship. Becoming a server is a great starting point for anyone looking to break into the world of food service, and internships can be a key stepping stone towards a successful career in the industry. Interning as a server will help you learn the intricacies of customer service, get hands-on experience with food and beverage preparation, and develop the essential server skills needed to thrive in a fast-paced, dynamic work environment. 

Internship Opportunities That Help You Understand Server Responsibilities

Internship opportunities for servers can vary depending on the location and type of establishment. While formal internships specifically for servers may not be as common as in other industries, there are still a few potential internship opportunities that can provide valuable experience and enhance your skills as a server:

  • Fine Dining Restaurants: Upscale or fine dining restaurants often offer internships or apprenticeships for individuals interested in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry. These internships provide exposure to high-end service standards, sophisticated menu offerings, and the opportunity to work alongside experienced professionals in a refined dining environment.
  • Hotel Restaurants: Many hotels have their own restaurants or dining outlets. Interning at a hotel restaurant can provide a broader perspective on food and beverage service within a hospitality setting. You may have the opportunity to work in different areas of the restaurant, such as room service, banquets, or breakfast service, and gain exposure to the diverse needs of hotel guests.
  • Catering Companies: Interning with a catering company can be an excellent way to develop skills in event planning and large-scale food service. Catering internships often involve assisting with event setup, food preparation, service coordination, and interacting with clients and guests during events.
  • International Exchanges or Work Abroad Programs: Some organizations facilitate international exchanges or work abroad programs for individuals in the hospitality industry. These programs can offer unique opportunities to work as a server in different countries, experience diverse cultures, and gain international exposure in the field.
  • Local Hospitality Training Programs: Check with local vocational schools, community colleges, or hospitality training programs in your area. They may have partnerships with restaurants or hotels that offer internship opportunities for aspiring servers. These programs often provide hands-on training and real-world experience in a supervised environment.

Step 4: Apply for Jobs

What are the Job Opportunities of a Server? 

Servers have various job opportunities within the hospitality and food service industry. Some positions may require additional server skills or experience, such as wine knowledge, bartending skills, or knowledge of specific cuisines. It’s important to note that job titles and responsibilities may vary across different establishments and regions. 

Some common job opportunities for servers include:

  • Restaurants: Servers are essential in traditional restaurants, ranging from casual dining establishments to fine dining establishments. They take orders, serve food and beverages, and provide customer service.
  • Cafes and Coffee Shops: Servers may work in cafes and coffee shops, taking customer orders, preparing and serving beverages, and offering food items.
  • Bars and Pubs: In bars and pubs, servers serve drinks, take food orders, and ensure a positive customer experience in a more relaxed and social environment.
  • Hotels and Resorts: Many hotels and resorts have restaurants, lounges, or banquet facilities where servers are responsible for providing food and beverage service to guests and event attendees.
  • Catering Companies: Catering companies hire servers to assist with events such as weddings, corporate functions, and private parties. Servers help with setting up, serving food and drinks, and maintaining a smooth flow of service.
  • Cruise Ships: Servers can find job opportunities on cruise ships, where they serve guests in various dining venues, from buffet-style restaurants to specialty dining options.
  • Event Venues: Event venues such as convention centers, stadiums, and concert halls often employ servers to handle food and beverage service during conferences, sports events, concerts, and other large-scale gatherings.
  • Food Delivery Services: With the rise of food delivery platforms, servers can also find job opportunities as delivery drivers, ensuring timely and accurate delivery of meals to customers.

A Step-by-Step Process to Apply for Server Jobs

Here’s a step-by-step process you can follow when applying for jobs:

  • Update your resume: Create or update your resume to highlight relevant skills, previous work experience, and any certifications or training related to serving or the hospitality industry.
  • Identify job opportunities: Look for server job openings in various sources such as online job boards (e.g., Indeed, LinkedIn), local classifieds, hospitality industry websites, or the career pages of specific restaurants or establishments.
  • Prepare a cover letter: Craft a concise and tailored cover letter that introduces yourself, expresses your interest in the position, and highlights relevant qualifications and experiences. Customize it for each application to demonstrate your genuine interest.
  • Submit your application: Follow the specific instructions provided in the job posting to submit your application. This usually involves attaching your resume and cover letter, and sometimes completing an online application form.
  • Follow up: After submitting your application, consider following up with the employer within a week or two to express your continued interest in the position and inquire about the status of your application.
  • Prepare for interviews: If your application is successful, you may be invited for an interview. Research the company or establishment, familiarize yourself with their menu or offerings, and practice common interview questions for servers. Dress professionally for the interview.
  • Attend the interview: Arrive on time, be friendly and attentive during the interview, and showcase your customer service skills, ability to work in a team, and knowledge of serving practices. Ask questions about the job and the establishment to demonstrate your interest.
  • Provide references: If requested, provide professional references who can vouch for your work ethic and abilities as a server.

What’s the Career Outlook for Servers?

Despite a projected decline in the employment of servers by 3% from 2022 to 2032, there continues to be a significant demand for these positions. On average, approximately 440,000 job openings for waiters and waitresses are expected to be available each year during this decade.

While the overall employment trend may be declining, the hospitality and food service industry remains robust, and dining establishments continue to rely on server skills to provide essential customer service and ensure a pleasant dining experience. This ongoing demand creates a consistent stream of job opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing a career as a waiter or waitress.

While the industry may experience fluctuations and shifts in employment patterns, individuals with excellent customer service skills, a strong work ethic, and a passion for the hospitality industry can still find rewarding opportunities as waiters and waitresses. It’s important for aspiring professionals in this field to showcase their skills, stay updated on industry trends, and leverage networking opportunities to secure employment in this dynamic sector. 

Server Popular Career Specialties

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Server?

As you transition into the hospitality industry, it’s crucial to grasp the dynamics of balancing your professional commitments as a server with your personal life. The restaurant and service industry often demands flexibility in working hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. This can influence your work-life balance, requiring you to adapt and find effective strategies to maintain personal time.

While the schedule of a server may not always adhere to the conventional 9-to-5 workday, this career offers unique opportunities. The variable schedule can provide flexibility to attend to personal matters or pursue other interests during off-peak hours. Effective time management, clear communication with your employer, and setting boundaries can help you achieve a satisfactory work-life balance.

Understanding these dynamics and implementing strategies to manage your time effectively will allow you to enjoy a fulfilling career as a server while also nurturing your personal life and well-being. That being said, there are a number of things that servers can do to improve their work-life balance, such as:

  • Set clear work-life boundaries to avoid work-related stress outside of work hours.
  • Take regular breaks during your shift to recharge and maintain focus.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help from colleagues or supervisors when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Engage in stress-relieving activities and hobbies to unwind after work.

Should I Become a Server?

To become a server or not to become a server? That is the question. Ultimately, the answer depends on your personal interests and long-term goals. But before making a final decision, it’s important to consider the key points discussed in this article. 

Can you handle server responsibilities, like multitasking, standing for long periods, and dealing with difficult customers? Do you possess the necessary skills, like excellent communication and the ability to work well under pressure? 

And, of course, the all-important question, how much does a server make? The good news is that with tips included, servers can make a decent living wage. So, if your interests and skills align with the server profession, and you’re willing to work hard, it could be a gratifying career. By weighing the key points discussed in the article and reflecting on your own interests, skills, and long-term goals, you can make an informed decision. Cheers to whatever career path you ultimately choose!

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Ajoke Aminu

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