Waiters/waitresses prepare tables in a restaurant before guests arrive, take orders, serve food and drink, and clear tables. They also prepare the bill for the meal and take payment for it.
Video: - Joanna: Waitress
Wherever people have food brought to your table - such as in restaurants and cafés - you'll find Waiters/Waitresses.
Before a restaurant is open, or before the guests arrive at a function (such as a wedding), you will have several jobs to do, such as laying out the tables.
In some cases, this can mean moving tables around, but often it means putting out tablecloths, napkins, cutlery, crockery and table decorations. The cutlery might have to be polished and, in some cases, the waiting staff make table decorations.
You also check that there are enough menus available, and that any other equipment you use (trays, serving trolleys, warmers) are clean and ready.
If people have to sit in certain places, like at a function, you will put out the name cards at each place.
Once the restaurant is open, or guests start to arrive, you help to make sure people feel comfortable. For example, you show people to their tables and hang up their coats (though this is sometimes the job of a Head Waiter/Waitress).
When people sit down, you will show them a menu and ask if they would like a drink. You take orders for meals and explain any unusual items on the menu or any specials of the day. The orders are written on a pad and handed in to the kitchen. In some restaurants, you use hand-held computerised notepads for taking orders. Each Waiter/Waitress usually looks after a set area or group of tables.
When the food is ready, you bring it from the kitchen and serve it to the guests. Sometimes the food is put on the plate in the kitchen (this is known as 'plate service'). Otherwise you will bring out the food on trays, and serve it onto the plates at the table. This takes some skill and is known as 'silver service'.
While people are eating, you will need to stay alert, in case the diners ask for anything else, and they should be ready to refill drinks glasses. You will usually ask the diners if everything is all right with their meals, and should be prepared to bring any complaints to the attention of the Chef or Restaurant Manager. Once the meal is over, you will clear the table, serve teas and coffees, and present the customers with their bill.
When the guests leave, you might need to re-set the table. In some places, you will deal with payments for meals.
When the function ends or the restaurant closes, you will clear the tables and put the linen (tablecloths and napkins) aside for washing. You could be polishing and putting away the cutlery and generally help to tidy up.
Some staff specialise in serving wine and drinks and are known as Sommeliers or Wine Waiters / Waitresses.
You might have to wear a uniform. You also have to pay a lot of attention to personal hygiene and appearance.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Waiter/Waitress, you need:
- plenty of energy and stamina
- good communication skills
- a polite and friendly personality
- to know what's on the menu and make recommendations, if asked
- to deal tactfully and patiently with customers
- to work quickly and efficiently at busy times
- to stay calm under pressure
- a clean and neat appearance
- numerical skills for handling money
It helps to have an outgoing personality for this type of work.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £13,000 - £14,000
- With experience: £14,500 - £16,500
- Senior Waiters/Waitresses earn £17,500 - £18,500
Tips can improve salaries.
Hours of work
Waiters/Waitresses work 37-40 hours a week, which could include shift work, split shifts, early starts, late finishes, weekend work and public holidays. Overtime might be available. Part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal employment is possible.
Where could I work?
- contract caterers
- conference centres
- wedding venues
- cruise ships
- leisure operations
Opportunities for Waiters/Waitresses occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, on Find a Job and at Jobcentre Plus.
Vacancies can also be found through specialist recruitment agencies and on job boards such as Caterer.com.
Many hotels, restaurants and bars have their own website, and usually advertise vacancies as they arise.
You could also approach hotels, restaurants and bars directly and ask about vacancies.
Entry Routes and Training
There are no set entry routes into this career. You should apply directly to employers for vacancies.
An Intermediate Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start. You may be able to take a vocational qualification, such as an NVQ, as part of your apprenticeship. Take a look at our information article
Employment 1st is a programme that prepares people for their first job in the hospitality industry. It includes core skills such as customer service, sales, communication, safety and IT.
Also, various vocational BTEC and City & Guilds qualifications are available and could help you to get into this career - see below for more details.
Training depends on the type of food service used. If plate service is used, you'll be trained on-the-job by more experienced staff. In restaurants using silver service, you are more likely to be trained in-house for basic skills and sent on day-release to college for further training.
There is a range of full- and part-time college courses available which cover food service.
If you would like some training, City & Guilds offer a level 2 qualification in food preparation and service. This course has a range of units, which include:
- safe working practices for the hospitality industry
- introduction to the hospitality industry
- tools and equipment used in food preparation and service
- savoury products
- desserts, cakes, biscuits and pastry products
- beverage preparation
- food and beverage service
Other courses could be available in your area.
Previous experience as a Waiter/Waitress would be useful but it is not always needed for this career.
With training and experience, it might be possible to move into supervisory positions. A Waiter/Waitress who are responsible for a section is called a chef de rang. After further experience, promotion to Restaurant Manager is possible. Some waiting staff might move into a specialist role such as Sommelier (wine service).
Promotion prospects are greater in bigger restaurants or in those that are part of a chain.
You don't need any educational qualifications, but good maths and English are useful.
The following qualifications could help you to stand out from the crowd:
- GCSE in hospitality and catering
- BTEC level 2 - hospitality
- BTEC level 2 - food safety in catering
- BTEC level 2 - hospitality and catering principles
- City & Guilds level 1 - introduction to the hospitality industry
To get onto an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need at least 2 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above, possibly including English and maths.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have relevant skills and abilities gained in working with the public and handling cash.
Intermediate Level Apprenticeships in Hospitality and Catering and Licensed Hospitality might be available in your area.
Colleges will usually consider applications from candidates who don't meet their usual entry requirements. You should check the admissions policy of individual colleges.
The level 1 Award in Wine is available from The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
- 66% of waiters/waitresses work part-time.
- 6% have flexible hours.
- 18% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
Retail, fashion and hospitality industries
Tel: 020 8340 3366
Hospitality Guild (People 1st)
Springboard UK Ltd
Tel: 020 7529 8610
British Hospitality Association (BHA)
Tel: 020 7404 7744
Caterer: Hospitality careers
Publisher: Totaljobs Group Ltd