How to Be a Great Server – Tips for Waiters and Waitresses

I used to work as a server (waiting tables) at Applebees.

It was one of the best (and worst) jobs I’ve ever had.

I think everyone should be required to work a few months as a waitress or waiter (called a “server” nowadays). It’s one of those jobs that really challenges you both physically and mentally.

But it can be rewarding if you do it right.

It’s also one of the best part-time job opportunities around. Weekends and nights are actually the best time to work as a waitress or waiter anyway.

To make better tips, you have to become a better server. Once you get the mechanics down of the particular restaurant you’re working at, focus on the following things to improve your serving and tips.

How to Be a Good Waitress or Waiter

Know Your Menu

Study the menu. Learn about the food you are serving. Try different things on the menu to see what you’re waiting on people. Have a few personal recommendations and be excited when a customer asks for help.

Be Personable and Honest

This is huge. People are coming to this establishment to spend their hard-earned money. Act like that’s a big deal! Be appreciative and genuinely glad to see them.

Above all, be honest with your customer. If you forgot something, apologize and move on. If you don’t know something, tell them you don’t and find a way to get their question answered.

Be Efficient

Always be thinking several moves ahead. When you’ve got three four-tops and a two-top going at the same time, you don’t have time to be running back and forth to the kitchen to meet the needs of individual customers, one by one.

Think of all your customers being at one huge-ass table. When you go back to the kitchen for something, think about everyone at that big table – what do they need? Does someone need a refill? Did somebody ask for extra dressing?

Keep Your Cool

If you’ve never been “in the weeds” then you haven’t been waiting tables long enough. You will eventually get in over your head and it will seem like the restaurant is caving in on you.

As a server, you’re going to get it from all sides: rude customers, demanding managers, lazy cooks, etc. Avoid the temptation to fall into the trap of yelling at each other and being rude to one another that can easily take over a Saturday night. Stay calm and focus on the next thing you can do to get your job done.

Bonus Tips for Making Better Tips

Work at the Ideal Restaurant

Don’t just pick any random place to wait tables. I chose Applebees. Mistake on my part.

If I were to do it all over again, I’d choose a casual steak restaurant, like Outback Steakhouse: big checks, middle to upper/middle-income patrons, and no tie required. Plus, I love the food. Go too nice and you have to wear a freaking waiter suit or tie (no good).

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Work Only During Peak Times

If you have any control over your schedule, plan to work only during the busiest times: Thursday through Saturday night. Not only is the restaurant full, the checks are bigger on the weekends, especially Friday and Saturday night.

The key to making the most money in the smallest amount of time is to focus on these peak times and avoid the other times like the plague. Lunches are absolutely miserable.

Not only do you have to come in and help “open” the restaurant (work that doesn’t involve a tip), you get fewer customers, with smaller checks. Plus, the lunchtime crowd is in a huge hurry and harder to please.

Build Relationships with Regulars

Serving someone their food is a very personal thing. They are trusting you to understand their needs and bring them what they want, when they want it.

Your job from day one in this job is to build a fan base of regular customers who will count on you to provide consistent service. They will start asking for you each time they come and the tips will increase.

This isn’t just about the tips though. Seeing each new customer as a complete person vs a number will improve your chances of providing them great service, and it may even lead to other career opportunities.

Give the Hostess Extra Tips

At the end of every shift, you usually have to share a certain percentage of your tips with the hostess, bartender, and busboy. Consider giving the hostess a few extra dollars each night to ensure she sends the quality customers to your section.

What does a quality customer look like? I’m not going to go there. But if you’ve ever waited tables, you know who’s more likely to give you bigger tips.

Final Thoughts on How to be a Great Server

While serving was not my favorite job, it was one of the best teachers I could have asked for.

Learning to deal with the public gives you a new perspective on life and teaches you how to form relationships in short periods of time. The skills I learned have helped me in so many in so many other ventures and careers.

Have you ever worked as a waitress or waiter? What are your tips for becoming a great server? Never been a server? What do you think makes a good server?

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  1. Avatar sarkari in says:

    Part time jobs nowadays are being used by many people as a source of extra income because these jobs are mostly considered leisure jobs but the truth is it is as difficult to get as a real job.

  2. Avatar says:

    I could not agree more with the statement “everyone should be required to work as a server”. Anyone that ever has will treat people a whole lot differently the next time they go out to eat. The greatest thing I learned from being a server is how much it sets you up later in life to be aggressive, get a lot of stuff done at once, and do a really great job in sales.

  3. Avatar moneymatters says:

    I think one of the main keys is to remember to be personable – it can go a long ways. I’ve had servers that were very personable and it overcame slow service and poor food – just because they were so friendly.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @moneymatters Totally agree. Just slow down and be nice to me. A lot can be forgiven if you’re “real” and nice with me.

    2. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @moneymatters Totally agree. Just slow down and be nice to me. A lot can be forgiven if you’re “real” and nice with me.

  4. I love waiters who knows the menu backwards and forwards, and is able to tell me his personal recommendations in a way that makes me believe he has actually tried every dish on the menu. Thanks for the tip about livefyre in the Wise1000 forums PT. It looks like a very slick ans seamless integration.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @WillChen Yeah, I’m loving the new commenting system. They are going to allow for guest comments soon too, which is a must I think. Anyway, I’m already commenting more myself.

  5. Avatar Mr Michael P says:

    I worked at McDonalds for six good years … best time of my life. Outside of the hard work and rushes, the job really was a lot of fun.

    I agree with you Phil. Service jobs really teach you a lot and it would be nice if everyone could get that kind of experience.

  6. Avatar GaelicWench says:

    Like 20sFinances, I, too, don’t think I could do it for the same reasons. Plus, where I work at Cracker Barrel (in the gift shop), our regulars are largely senior citizens. Be it during peak, lunch or breakfast, they don’t tip well at all due to being on fixed incomes – social security/pensions. Our servers don’t make much in tips.

    Money aside, I’ll stick to the gift shop.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @GaelicWench I love that gift shop. Perfect place to wait for a table. I love those biscuits from CB too. I can see how those places would have very low tips like you say.

  7. Avatar 20sFinances says:

    I’ve always thought about how I might enjoy the challenge of being a server. But, I don’t think I could do it – to much stress and fast pace.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @20sFinances Oh, I’m sure you could get the hang of it. It’s a good gig for people in their 20s.

    2. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      @20sFinances Oh, I’m sure you could get the hang of it. It’s a good gig for people in their 20s.

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