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what does a restaurant server do

A restaurant server—also known as a waiter or waitress—is the primary point of contact with a restaurant’s customers, responsible for ensuring that diners enjoy their dining experience. There were 2,600,500 waiters and waitresses employed in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Servers are employed in every type of restaurant, from humble mom and pop lunch counters to fast food chains to the fanciest of white tablecloth fine dining establishments.

If you’re wondering what restaurant servers do and how they do it, keep reading.

First things first: while a restaurant server’s responsibilities vary depending on the type of restaurant they work at, their primary duties are to take customer orders and deliver food and drinks. Their main priority is the customer experience. Accordingly, they must be “on” all the time and ready to build relationships with guests.

A restaurant server doesn’t need any formal education. However, on-the-job training is almost always required, and restaurant operations classes are available for servers wanting to upskill. 

what does a restaurant server do

 What do restaurant servers do? Here are 10 responsibilities they carry from day to day.

  • Servers should know the menu well enough to help diners make an informed meal choice—and to upsell when possible.
  • Restaurant servers should be well-organized. Being well presented, keeping track of tables, and remembering orders requires focus and concentration. 
  • Waiters and waitresses inform the kitchen and bar of customer’s choices, as well as of any special dietary needs or special requests.
  • Greet customers and build a positive customer experience from when they sit down until the bill is paid.
  • Waitstaff are responsible for front of house tasks like setting tables, removing dinnerware, replenishing utensils and refilling glasses.
  • Restaurant servers are also responsible for cleaning up tables and dining areas, as well as tidying up any spills.
  • Servers must process sales and bring the check to customers at appropriate times.
  • A server needs to be trustworthy as they determine total charges, issue the check, take payment, give the check and payment to the host or manager, and return a customer’s credit card, signature slip, and any change.
  • Servers must know all of a restaurant’s sanitation, safety, and alcohol policies. A health inspection could happen any day, and restaurant servers need to make sure they aren’t committing any violations.
  • Communication between servers to chefs and hosts on meal progression times is also key in keeping the restaurant running efficiently.

Need tips on how to hire, train, and retain the best servers? Download the free Staff Management Guide.

On top of that, server sidework is a crucial component of any restaurant server’s duties. Sidework is all the little jobs that keep a restaurant running smoothly and is performed before, during, and at the end of a shift. 

Common sidework includes (but isn’t limited to) cleaning service areas; updating specials boards; refilling table condiments; refilling salt and pepper shakers; tidying menus; lighting candles; restocking beverage and server stations; setting tables with silverware, napkins, and glassware; laundering linen; sweeping and vacuuming; and getting ice for the bar.

In restaurants where menus change regularly, restaurant servers will meet with managers or kitchen staff prior to their shift to go over the day’s offerings. Typically they will discuss any specials, how the food is prepared, and any potential allergens in the ingredients.

Remember: Everything servers do is integral to the dining experience. They should be attentive, able to read customers’ personalities and moods quickly and accurately, tailor their service style in response, and offer knowledgeable suggestions—particularly about food and beverage pairings.

Why is turnover is so high, what is the actual cost, and how do you fix it? Find the answers in our Staff Management ebook.

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Written by   |  
Ryan McSweeney started his restaurant career as a dish-washer at the Sundae School Ice Cream Parlor in Dennisport, Massachusetts. For five years he served Cape Cod vacationers the biggest scoops of their favorite flavors. He spent many more years in the service industry, and brings his knowledge and love for the restaurant-world to Upserve where he provides the best restaurant technology to restaurateurs around the country.
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