I'm applying to be a restaurant server what should I know?

Two main questions.

  1. I want to use previous employment reference…but this particular place burned down to the ground and is no longer in business. Would this be a valid place to list under previous places of employment?

  2. What are some specific duties a server has? And in what percentage?

  1. Yes. Not your fault if they can’t verify your prior employment.
  1. You won’t just be taking orders and delivering food. Depending on the restaurant, you’ll have extra duties ranging from rolling silverware in napkins, keeping the salad dressings stocked, baking bread, bringing plates from the dishwasher’s rack to the expo area, ditto for glassware, etc…Some places even have servers make salads and/or desserts.

Be prepared to see humanity at its worst, and for a large number of people here to bitch that they shouldn’t have to tip you.
Oh, and get ready to be fucked in the ass come tax season.

  1. Don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to. If there’s room on the application, you may have to state that the place isn’t there anymore.

  2. Mostly, making sure your customers are happy, since that’s who’s giving you the bulk of your money. This is mostly just taking orders, delivering food, keeping up with refills, and making sure they have everything to enjoy their meal.

You’ll also have some “side-work,” which usually involves sweeping your section, making sure your tables have enough salt/pepper, napkins, sweetners, etc. There’s probably also some other cleaning duties involved, but it depends on the particular restaurant.

I generally agree with bouv regarding the duties. Most of your time will be on the floor, taking orders, getting drinks, dropping off food, checking in on your tables, pre-bussing (taking plates when diners are done), and dropping of the check. If your restaurant has the servers do the salads, get the soups, and do the desserts, I’m including this in this category.

Another 15% of the time or so will be doing the side work, like rolling silverware, filling ketchup bottles, and doing cleaning.

I disagree with bouv regarding taxes. Many servers I know made out like bandits during tax time, since you only have to declare minimum wage.

I waited tables for many years, and it is a job that is more frustrating than it appears. Customers asking for unreasonable substitutions and special orders, getting slammed, people making up complaints to try to get comped food, running out of something after your table has just ordered it, drugged up coworkers (sees to go with restaurant territory), lousy tips.

That said, it can be good money, you don’t take your work home with you, and you get some exercise. I wouldn’t have done it for so long if there hadn’t been pluses.

In my experience, it can be difficult to get a job as a server off the bat. They may start you in a host/hostess or bussing position first, but this isn’t always the case. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant before (and I’m guessing that’s the case, since there’s this thread), stress the fact that you are a good multi-tasker, you remain calm in stressful situations, and you have a great short-term memory. Try to match your demeanor with the restaurant. Good luck.

It’s also vital to remember that the cook is the most important person in the restaurant.


I will absolutely second this one. Also, be nice to your support staff (bussers and bartenders if you work with liquor) because they can make your job significantly easier and more pleasant if you’re not a jerk.

I’m currently reading Waiter Rant. I would imagine that that would be helpful. (It’s certainly very entertaining!)

An elementary school teacher friend loaned this book to me, having never worked in hospitality, saying I “might find it entertaining, but it’s kind of boring half the time.”

The very parts of it she found most tedious–the actual RANT part of the book–were the ones that fed my soul. (I waited tables for years. I now bartend. Bartending is more money and less B.S. but the heart of it is the same.)

Waiting tables is one of those jobs that nobody understands unless they’ve actually done it. It can be financially very rewarding, but it can suck the humanity out of you like a vacuum. You’ve never loved/hated customers more than when they literally–at their whim–decide whether you get paid or work for free. (Sure, you get paid that awesome $2.13 an hour but…)

As others have said, 1.) yes your previous employment is relevant even if the place no longer exists. That’s not your fault.

2.) Sidework depends in large part on where you work. Some restaurants–usually lower-end places–use servers as free labor. You may find yourself spending 2 hours before/after you stop taking tables–getting tipped–doing menial work for that same $2 an hour. Better restaurants take better care of their servers, but you will almost always be required to do some side jobs (like others mentioned, refilling condiments, cleaning duties, rolling silverware, making salads, running food, cutting fruit, setting up sections, stacking chairs, etc., etc…) that have no direct effect on your bottom line. Get used to it. It’s part of the gig.

The rest of your actual job waiting tables is pretty much as you might imagine…taking care of people in your section. Even though, if you’re new to it, you can’t really imagine it til you’ve gone through it. The term “in the weeds” will become part of your vocabulary. It expresses the hellish feeling of being so far behind–so busy–so far gone into high brush that nobody can even see you, because you’re so “in the weeds” you can’t see your way out.

If you’re good at it and you can stick it out, though, it’s a quick way to make good money. Just remember that even the most horrifying customer will be gone eventually. :wink:

Should be OK, as long as you can prove you were elsewhere at the time of the fire.

Not anymore. The IRS has been getting on the ass of restaurants for servers not declaring shit. It’s all computerized now, so at the very least all your credit cards tips (which make up the bulk nowadays,) are automatically recorded on your W-2/sent to the IRS. And I don’t know how other systems work, but the one we use WILL NOT let you claim less than 10% of your cash sales as your total tips for the night.

An example:

Let’s say I have $500 in credit card sales, and $300 in cash sales at the end of a Saturday night (which is average.) My credit card tips are, let’s say $80, and the system knows that. When I clock out, it will then ask me to declare my cash tips. If I tell it I made less than $30 in cash tips, it will give me an error and I have to get my manager to ok it, which means explaining to him why I made less that night. And odds are, if I really did make less than 10% in cash tips, I would have been bitching about it all night, or it meant a table with a large check stiffed me, so he would have heard me complain about it before now.

So what happens is that the money you earn for your hourly (anywhere from $2.50 to $4.00 on average (Oregon and California are the exception, they get real min. wage at about $8/hour)) is rarely enough to even pay the taxes you owe to the government. If you also get any benefits from your employer, like health insurance, 401(k), etc…, they get taken out first, and then you have even less to pay towards taxes. One girl I work with owed over $2000 last year, which is a substantial amount for someone single, renting, and no other source of income. I told her she should change the exemptions she claims on her W-4 to a 0, it’s the best way as a server to stay ahead of taxes.

Washington, as well.

I was being kind of flip with this post, so I should clarify and give the more serious version: Over the years I’ve worked with a good number of servers who seemed to believe that my primary function as the cook was to generate larger tips for them. In the worst case example of this, at one job I had servers literally demanding that I do special things for them that I was not supposed to do, according to company policy and how I’d been trained, for no other reason than that my doing so would generate larger tips for them (which were never shared with me). Their excuse was always, “Well you get paid more than we do! We need those tips!” To which I called bullshit, because at that time minimum wage was, IIRC, $4.25/hour, and I was making a whopping $5.00/hour. Ooo, after 8 hours I would have made a whole $6 more than one of them. In that restaurant, even the crappiest waitress should have been making more than that in tips off one table. Not to mention that “you get paid more” rang kind of hollow when every one of the waitresses was driving a much nicer car than I was, and they could afford to go out drinking every night after work while I usually had to content myself with a six-pack at home.

Depending on what kind of restaurant it is, you may also have to give some of your tips to bussers and bartenders.