Waiter Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career
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What Does a Waiter Do?
A waiter is responsible for serving customers in an eating establishment. Waiters are employed in a wide variety of establishments, including restaurants, pizzerias, bars, pubs, fast food outlets, hotels, as well as in businesses specialising in catering and banqueting services.
A waiter’s principal duties are taking orders from customers and serving them food and drinks - usually at their table, or in some cases at a bar. But they also perform a number of other duties both before and after the arrival of customers.
These include preparing the dining room before the restaurant opens to the public, which involves arranging the tables according to the layout plan, allocating tables for any advance bookings and setting the tables with a tablecloth, plates, cutlery, napkins, glasses and any other accessories that may be required.
Once the restaurant is open, waiters are responsible for welcoming customers and accompanying them to their tables. After customers have been seated, waiters illustrate the daily specials, the standard menu items and the wine list to them. To do this effectively, waiters need to be familiar with all of the dishes prepared by the restaurant’s chef and the ingredients used (including any that might trigger allergies), as well as with all the drinks on the menu (soft drinks, wine, beer, coffee etc). To help guests choose, a waiter may enquire about their tastes and preferences and, where required, give them recommendations. They then take the guests’ food and drink orders. Order taking may be done in a number of different ways: the waiter may memorise orders or write them down using pen and paper and then pass them on to the kitchen, either in writing or verbally. Alternatively, the waiter may enter orders into an electronic order pad, which transmits diners’ choices directly to the kitchen staff.
When the food and drinks ordered are ready, the waiter brings them to the table and serves them to the customers. This is typically done following plating and serving etiquette, which includes rules on carving meat and filleting fish, serving and clearing plates, opening bottles and pouring drinks.
While customers are eating, waiters will occasionally approach their table to check that everything is proceeding smoothly and to clear away dishes and cutlery between courses. Waiters should always keep a close eye on the tables they are serving to make sure that they rapidly respond to any needs that guests may have. At the end of the meal, the waiter may accompany the customers to the till or prepare the bill and bring it to them. In some cases, waiters may also be required to handle payments.
When the restaurant finally closes to the public, waiters are responsible for cleaning and tidying the dining room in preparation for the next shift.
In addition to their normal waiting duties, waiters working for companies providing catering and banqueting services at private and public functions and events, such as weddings, birthdays, gala dinners, conferences or inaugurations etc., may also be required to set up, prepare and clear away banqueting areas, take charge of a specific buffet or food station (drinks, first courses, second, desserts or coffee, for example), refill self-service sections or serve guests food and drinks on trays.
In large restaurants employing a full dining room brigade (e.g. with a number of waiters, a head waiter welcoming guests, a sommelier looking after wine and drinks orders, etc), waiters and waitresses may be assigned specific duties, such as only taking food orders and carrying out table service. In smaller establishments with fewer dining room staff, waiters are often required to be more flexible and carry out a wide range of customer service functions, including taking and managing bookings, recommending wines, assisting the cook with garnishing and plating food, preparing simple dishes (such as cold starters or fruit salads) and dealing with payments.
One of the main characteristics of waiting jobs is the significant physical stamina required. Waiters work on their feet the whole day, moving quickly from kitchen to dining room and back again, interacting with diners and ensuring that their needs are met. They therefore need to be physically fit and strong and deal well with stress. Another key asset for a waiter is a positive, can-do attitude. Waiters are a customer’s first point of contact, so it is essential for them to possess a polite, helpful and professional manner at all times and to act as ambassadors for the restaurant they work for.
Waiters usually work as part of a team. In a large dining room brigade, they are typically coordinated by a head waiter (or a banqueting manager in a catering service), who will assign waiters and commis waiters to specific tables in the interests of ensuring an efficient service. Working hours may vary depending on the type of establishment.
In restaurants, waiters are usually required to work lunch and dinner shifts, including on weekends and public holidays, while in hotels they may be required to work breakfasts, too. In bars open throughout the day, waiters might be required to work shifts (e.g. mornings or afternoons), while pub work tends to be concentrated in the evening and may go on until the early hours of the morning. For this reason, waiters are often hired on a part-time basis (e.g. evenings or weekends only).
Employment opportunities in the restaurant sector may experience seasonal peaks. This is especially the case for bars, restaurants and hotels situated in tourist destinations, who will need seasonal waiting staff to cope with the busiest times of the year.
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Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties and responsibilities of a waiter are as follows:
- Dining room / table preparation
- Welcoming guests in a friendly, courteous manner and accompanying them to their tables
- Illustrating the food menu and wine list, providing advice on food and drinks choices
- Taking guests’ orders and transmitting them to the kitchen
- Serving food and drink in accordance with agreed procedures
- Presenting the bill and handling payments
- Clearing tables and tidying and cleaning the dining room at the end of the shift
How to Become a Waiter: Training and Requirements
There are no specific training requirements to become a waiter, with most people learning the skills needed through direct experience on the job. However, anybody wanting to acquire specialist food service knowledge can choose to attend a hospitality and catering course, where topics are likely to include table setting, food and drink presentation, the sequence and rules of service, carrying plates and trays, silver service and clearing tables. In addition to these skills, waiters should also possess basic food knowledge and be familiar with the rules of food hygiene and workplace safety.
Finally, a knowledge of one or more foreign languages is a definite advantage for anybody applying for a waiting job, especially in restaurants that are frequented by tourists and foreign clients.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Waiter?
Waiters need to have the following skills:
- Table setting and service skills
- Knowledge of food and wine
- Customer service mindset
- Ability to work as part of a team
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Friendly, polite and courteous manner
- Physical stamina and resistance to stress
- Fast and energetic
Career Path and What to Expect
A career as a waiter typically begins in an entry-level position, such as commis waiter (also known as a commis de rang, busboy or assistant waiter), in the dining room brigade of a restaurant, hotel or other eating establishment.
As junior waiters gradually gain knowledge and experience of the food service business, they may choose to advance their careers by seeking employment in larger, more prestigious establishments. With time, they may progress to a senior position, such as chef de rang (the waiter in charge of a specific section in a restaurant), and eventually work their way up to the role of head waiter - the person in charge of coordinating the restaurant together with the head chef and the head sommelier.
Top Reasons to Work as a Waiter
The main reasons for choosing a career in waiting are the ease of access to jobs and the wealth of opportunities available.
Eating establishments of all kinds require waiting staff, from restaurants, pubs and pizzerias, right through to high-end luxury restaurants, while the large number of such establishments on ours streets means waiters of all levels of experience and expertise stand a very good chance of finding work close to home. Meanwhile, for those more interested in travelling and, say, learning a foreign language, a waiting job abroad is the ideal opportunity.
The possibility of finding part-time or seasonal employment makes waiting a good option for people looking for a second job to supplement another activity.
Finally, a job as a waiter is an excellent springboard for anybody planning on a career in the food service industry.