The Job and What's Involved

Waiters/waitresses take orders, serve food and drinks and set and clear tables. They may work in restaurants, pubs, cafes, hotels or other places where food or drink are served.

The duties could include:

  • Taking telephone reservations.
  • Greeting customers and showing them to a table or asking them to wait.
  • Assessing when a table might become free.
  • Giving out menus and answering questions about the way the meals are prepared.
  • Writing down the orders for food and drinks for each table and passing them to kitchen or bar staff.
  • Entering the order details into an electronic point of sale, which transmits them to the kitchen.
  • Collecting meals in the kitchen and drinks in the bar and carrying them, either on a tray or by hand, to the correct tables.
  • Performing silver service at the table (serving food on to the customer's plate from a platter balanced on the arm).
  • Measuring and dispensing drinks.
  • Responding to customers' needs throughout the meal, such as more drinks, the next course or the bill.
  • Responding politely to any complaints and taking them back to the kitchen or the management.
  • Clearing away the empty plates of each course before bringing the next.
  • Adding up bills, although most places now use an automated till.
  • Accepting payments by cash, cheque or card, using the till or other electronic equipment.
  • Cleaning each table and resetting it with a cloth, napkins, cutlery, condiments and perhaps candles or flowers ready for the next session.
  • In a hotel, serving food to guests in their rooms.
  • In a self-service area, keeping cutlery receptacles filled, clearing the tables and mopping spills and breakages.
  • At the end of the day, cleaning the dining area and perhaps helping with washing up.

Waiting staff employed by contract caterers carry out the same duties in conference centres, hired halls or customers' homes.

Sometimes a specialist wine waiter/waitress is employed to take drinks orders. They may be known as a sommelier. The Sommelier/Wine Waiter job guide has more details.

Waiters/waitresses are busiest in the evening and sometimes well into the night. If their hours extend past the end of public transport, some employers, but not all, will pay their taxi fare home or provide courtesy transport. Staff based in remote areas may need their own transport.

Part-time and seasonal work is increasingly common. Most full-timers work a five-day week across a six- or seven-day rota and over public holidays. Shift work is normal. Some full-timers work split shifts, with free time in the afternoon but returning to work in the evening. Staff in works canteens may work office hours.

Waiting staff work mostly in the dining area. They spend time in the kitchen and washing up area, which is usually hot, humid and noisy. With the ban on smoking indoors, increasing numbers of establishments also have an outdoor dining area.

Large employers may supply a uniform, but smaller establishments require staff to wear their own clothes in accordance with a dress code, often a black skirt or trousers and a white shirt.

A waiter/waitress may start on the national minimum wage, which ranges from around £7,400 to around £12,000 a year, depending on age. With experience, earnings may be around £15,000.

A head waiter/waitress may earn £18,000 or more.

In many places waiters/waitresses get tips from customers. In some places staff keep their own tips; in other places they are pooled and shared equally between all staff, including kitchen and bar staff.

Meals, while on duty, are usually provided. Accommodation is provided by some hotels and a few restaurants, particularly those in remote areas or those employing staff from overseas.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

For years, catering has been a growth industry and, since turnover is high, there are generally plenty of jobs throughout the country. However, this sector is likely to be affected by any changes in the economy.

Jobs are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, in local newspapers and on company websites. There are also specialist websites such as www.caterer.com, www.caterersearch.com and

There is some seasonal work in hotels and restaurants, in overseas resorts and on cruise ships. Knowledge of foreign languages is useful, but not usually necessary.

Waiting staff who serve alcoholic drinks must be over 18.

Education and Training

Experience is more valuable than formal educational qualifications. Inexperienced waiters/waitresses might be given a day's trial with or without pay. After a few months' experience, it is easier to get subsequent jobs.

The Diploma in hospitality may be relevant for this job area.

It may be possible to enter through an Apprenticeship in hospitality and catering.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

New employees are usually trained on the job by an experienced member of staff. They will learn about working practices specific to that establishment and may also be offered specialist training in, for example, silver service.

The Academy of Food and Wine Service offers short training courses. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust offer courses leading to qualifications in wines and spirits.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Waiters/waitresses need:

  • To be welcoming, friendly and polite.
  • Patience and tact when dealing with demanding customers.
  • Good communication skills.
  • To work quickly and to stay calm under pressure.
  • A good memory for remembering orders and for discussing the menu.
  • A good sense of balance when carrying meals through crowded areas.
  • Physical fitness and stamina.
  • Good personal hygiene.
  • A clean and tidy appearance.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects are best in larger establishments, particularly those that are part of a chain. Waiting staff can move into specialist posts, such as wine waiter/waitress, or into another role within the restaurant, such as purchasing, stock control or accounts. Some move into supervisory posts, such as head waiter/waitress, assistant restaurant manager or restaurant manager. NVQ's at Level 3 may help when applying for promotion.

It is also possible for waiting staff, particularly those with a specialist interest in food, to go on to set up their own establishments.

Get Further Information

Academy of Food and Wine Service (AFWS),
Trinity Court, 34 West Street,
Sutton, Surrey SM1 1SH
Tel: 020 8661 4646
Website: www.afws.co.uk

People 1st, 2nd Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge UB8 1LH
Tel: 01895 857000
Websites: www.people1st.co.uk

Springboard UK,
3 Denmark Street,
London WC2H 8LP
Tel: 0207 497 8654
Website: www.springboarduk.net

Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET),
International Wine & Spirit Centre,
39-45 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF
Tel: 020 7089 3800
Website: www.wset.co.uk

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