Job Duties

Waiters are the largest group of food and beverage service workers. They work in many different types of dining establishments where they take customers’ orders, serve them food and beverages, prepare bills, and occasionally accept payments from customers. Their duties vary greatly between different dining facilities. Those who work in coffeeshops serve sandwiches, soups, and salads in a fast and efficient manner. In more expensive restaurants that provide customers with a fine dining experience, waiters play a more formal role that focuses on personal, attentive treatment at a slower pace. In these types of establishments, they usually talk with their customers, suggesting dishes, explaining how food is prepared, and providing guidance on wine selection.

Some waiters prepare simple fare such as salads and desserts. Others may overlap responsibilities with other food and beverage service workers. They may perform such tasks as escorting guests to tables, serving customers seated at counters, clearing and setting up tables, or operating a cash register.

Job Skills

Those interested in waiter positions should have a good memory so they can remember customers’ orders. They should have a neat and well-groomed appearance. They need to have a courteous and pleasant personality. Their customer relations skills must be of the highest caliber, and they should be able to function calmly in situations where stress is extremely high.


In 2002, waiters earned a median hourly wage (including tips) of $6.10. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $5.70, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $11.00. Most waiters earn more because they acquire higher tips, rather than a higher hourly wage.

Training and Education

There are no specific educational requirements for waiter positions, although many employer prefer applicants who have graduated from high school. Many employees acquire these jobs because they have an immediate need for income, rather than a long-term interest in the profession. Many are in their late teens or early twenties and have little or no job experience. Some are full-time college or high school students. Hotels and restaurants with higher-class standards prefer applicants who have experience in the occupation. These establishments also offer higher wages. Most waiters learn their skills by observing more experienced waiters. Some employers train their employees using audio/video materials, and some employees receive restaurant training from vocational schools, restaurant associations, and large restaurant chains.


In 2002, waiters held about 2,097,000 jobs. A majority worked in restaurants, coffeeshops, and bars.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of waiters is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Some employment growth will result from new job openings, but the vast majority of job openings will be due to the extremely high turnover rate in this occupation. Keen competition is predicted for positions in fine dining establishments and popular restaurants.

To learn more about hospitality, retail, and travel related careers, please visit our section on Hospitality Schools for more information.