waitress working in a restaurant

There are plenty of reasons to become a server. On one had it can be a door into the wide world of the food and beverage industry that could lead anywhere, from running your own place someday to becoming a sommelier and choosing the wines that guests at fabulous restaurants will enjoy. There are also the purely financial reasons. If you’re looking to pay your way through college or grad school or need a side gig to support creative pursuits, a serving job that takes place largely in the evenings while leaving your days wide open for whatever adventures you want to pursue can be the perfect fit.

Regardless of what got you into it, there’s one thing that will make or break your money-making ability: Your serving skills. Whether you’re a first timer looking to start out on the right foot and wondering how to be a good server or you’re back in the game after a few years off and need a little refresher, here are a few server tips and tricks that cover how to be the best server you can be (and bring home the tips to back it up).

From the general duties and responsibilities of a server to bonus information that will take your serving skills to the next level, here’s everything you need to know about excelling as a food server.

server tips and tricks

Get Orders Right

As Thrillist explains in an article that covers what not to do as a server, one of the worst things you can do is guess at what you don’t know. “If you forgot to ask if someone wants their Negroni up or on the rocks, go back and ask. It doesn’t make you look forgetful, it makes you look like you actually care.”

Especially if you’re still learning how to serve or getting familiar with a new place’s menu, don’t be embarrassed to write things down either. It might take an extra second or two in the order taking moment, but it will save you endless amounts of time down the line when you get orders right and don’t have to hassle with sending things back and dealing with an understandably irritated kitchen staff in the process.

Greet Your Tables ASAP

We’ve all been at a restaurant that’s clearly busy and struggling to keep up. What’s the difference between you deciding to stay and heading out the door for someplace a little less frazzled? A greeting. All it takes is a welcome and mention that you’ll be with someone in a minute to make them feel seen, heard, and important. It takes just a second to complete and already kicks off your customer service on the right foot. Without a greeting, it can quickly seem to a potential customer that dining there isn’t worth it, that they’re just going to have to fight for their server’s attention the entire time… and who wants to do that?

Get the Right Gear

As Dickies explains, having the right equipment like proper shoes can make all the difference. Investing in a comfortable and functional pair of restaurant shoes is a game changer. You’ll be walking around for hours, tasked with keeping up good spirits with your customers the entire time. Hanging onto a jolly mood gets exponentially more difficult when you’re also dealing with the pain that several blisters on your feet are causing you.

restaurant server setting down coffee

How can you train and retain your restaurant staff? Learn everything from training to compensation to engagement with this comprehensive guide. The best part? Performance will improve with this process.

Download The Guide

Maintain a Good Attitude

Speaking of keeping up good spirits, the old trope is true: A smile goes a long way. Whether it’s among your co-workers or with your tables, do what you can to remain in a genuinely good mood and you’ll excel across the board. No one wants to dine at a restaurant and be met with a grumpy server who obviously hates their job when you’re out trying to have a good time.

The same holds true for your relationship with your co-workers. There’s always one disgruntled server that takes every opportunity they can to complain as soon as they step off the floor. Serving is never easy, but complaining 24/7 to everyone around you only makes it worse. Do what you can to be a beacon of good vibes and you’ll be the one to benefit in the form of better tips and teammates willing to help you out when you want a shift covered.

Invest in Professional Development

Whether that means taking part in the ongoing training that your restaurant offers or learning everything you can on your own time, you have to up your knowledge in order to level up and start earning the tips to match. If you come across a seminar or training program, ask your manager if they would pay for your professional development—it never hurts to ask.

The best thing you can do is to move up from within at the restaurant you’re already at, but if you find yourself in a dead-end role with nothing to look forward to, then it’s time to look elsewhere in order to keep getting better and gaining more experience. The great thing about serving in restaurants is that there are literally opportunities around the globe for this kind of work, so you’re never limited in your options. The sky (or, rather, your ambitions) are the limit!

Give Away Freebies When You Can

While this most often applies to bartenders, the more you can do things like give out free drinks or coupons, the more your guests will want to reciprocate… with higher tips. As the Hoffeld Group explains in their about science-based strategies for servers, “reciprocity is the belief that one should repay others for what they have done. Sociologists have confirmed that reciprocation is a powerful motivator across human cultures”—and that includes the restaurant industry.

By giving your guests a little something, the socially “normal” reaction is to want to repay that kindness. How do people repay servers? With tips. As the same article continued to point out, “research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology identified that when servers gave guests a piece of candy with the check, tips rose an average of 3.3%.” Even something as simple as a mint can make the difference!

Written by   |  
Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.