What does a food server do at work and what do they earn?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 25 October 2022

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In virtually any cafe or restaurant, you're likely to encounter food servers. Working as a food server can be fast-paced and demanding and involve a variety of different tasks to give customers a great dining experience. If you understand what the responsibilities of a food server are, it can help you decide whether the role is suitable for you. In this article, we answer 'What does a food server do?' and explore the job in more detail.

What does a food server do?

Before deciding on this career, it's useful to know the answer to 'What does a food server do?'. Their primary role is to take food orders from diners and then serve the food to them. In some restaurants, each food server serves a designated section of the restaurant. Working as a food server involves having excellent communication skills because they act as the contact point between the kitchen and the customer. It's important for food servers to have excellent customer service skills. Besides taking and serving food orders, food servers carry out a variety of other tasks, ensuring smooth service.

These can include making drinks, cleaning and resetting tables, taking payments, providing recommendations and information to customers and replenishing stock. Unless the restaurant is tiny, food servers typically work together as a team under the guidance of a manager. We sometimes know this job title as a waiter or waitress. Some food servers provide a counter service instead of a table service. These jobs involve serving pre-prepared food at a counter and often also include making hot and cold drinks. This type of food server job might be in cafes, concession stands and snack bars.

What is a food server?

A food server is the hospitality professional you usually encounter when you eat in a restaurant or cafe. Food servers work in formal and informal dining settings and you can see them in eateries of all sizes. A food server ensures a smooth and timely food service. They communicate with customers about their orders, provide information and liaise with kitchen and bar staff.

Food servers create a positive experience for customers. An individual food server is often responsible for the entire experience of a group of customers, from when they first sit down to when they leave. Food servers often work to build positive relationships with customers and make them feel valued.

Related: 20 good first jobs (plus types, salary and primary duties)

What is the average salary of a food server?

The national average salary of a food server is £9.81 per hour. This really can vary depending on the company you work for, with some servers able to earn over £14 per hour. Although the salary for food servers is fairly consistent throughout the country, you might earn more if you work for well-established chains or if you work in larger cities and urban areas.

You can earn significantly more than a food server if you work within fine dining. The national average salary of a fine dining server is £28,753 per year. Like other types of food server jobs, this can vary depending on the company you work for. Fine dining food servers also earn different amounts depending on where they're working. The national average salary in London is £35,203 per year, while the national average salary in Manchester is £23,589 per year.

Qualifications for being a food server

You can find work as a food server with no formal qualifications. For this reason, working as a food server can often be a popular first job for teenagers. While formal qualifications are less important than having the right skills and personality to work as a food server, it might be beneficial to understand the alcohol licensing laws in the area you're working in, if you're working at an establishment that serves alcohol. Your employer might provide training on this when you start work.

Related: How to find a job as a teenager (including a jobs list)

What skills do food servers need?

There are some skills and characteristics that are very useful to have as a food server. This job involves interacting with many people so being friendly and sociable is important. Food servers can also benefit from being physically fit because they spend a lot of time working on their feet and lifting and carrying heavy items.

It's important to work quickly and efficiently and remain calm in challenging situations. Effective food servers perform well under pressure and have great attention to detail. They require the right memory to remember orders, special requirements, details about the menu and any available special items. Some other skills that are valuable for food servers to have include:

  • Organisational skills: These skills help food serves to stay up-to-date on menu changes and manage several customers at once.

  • Time management skills: These are important for managing multiple tasks and ensuring the restaurant floor is ready for service to begin.

  • Communication skills: Food servers have good verbal and written communication skills so they can communicate with customers, colleagues and the kitchen team. These skills are particularly helpful when communicating allergies or dietary requests and include active listening skills.

  • Interpersonal skills: These skills help food servers to interact in a professional and friendly way with customers and work closely with other colleagues.

  • Customer service skills: Food servers need great customer service skills for providing customers with a positive experience, including resolving concerns and complaints.

  • Technical skills: These skills help food servers to use point of sale systems, reservations software or other technical equipment for managing orders and payments.

Related: Q&A: What is customer service and why is it important?

The work environment for food servers

Food servers typically work in restaurants and cafes, which are distinctive working environments. There are also a great variety of ways that restaurants and eateries can have structure, meaning that there can be differences between different food server positions. Cafes and restaurants can often be fast-paced working environments with significant pressure, so food servers need quick reactions to changing demands.

In this type of work environment, you're likely to spend very little time sitting down and often switch between different tasks. It's possible to transfer the experience and skills that food servers gain in their job to other types of work, particularly to other jobs within the hospitality industry. Experience as a food server can be useful for roles like working in a hotel, a bar or a catering company.

Related: 21 waitering tips for a successful career in hospitality

What type of businesses employs food servers?

Food servers can work for any type of business that uses professionals to serve your food or take your orders. These could be a business offering full table service, a bar or counter service or a combination of the two. This includes:

  • restaurants

  • bars and pubs

  • cafes and coffee shops

  • fast-food outlets

Food servers might also work for catering companies or staffing agencies that provide hospitality staff for events like weddings or private parties. A food server could work for a small independent business or a large chain with many locations throughout the country or the world. You might find more opportunities for progression if you're working for a larger company. The sheer range of roles is wide-ranging, which means food servers can enjoy a varied career.

Related: What it takes to be a fast-food worker: a step-by-step guide

Career progression for food servers

There are some valuable opportunities for food servers to progress their careers. This job helps you to build many transferrable skills that are useful in a vast range of other careers. If you're still studying, working as a food server might be a beneficial part-time job for developing skills that are helpful for your career after you've graduated. This can be useful if you're applying to work in a field that you're new to or if you're interested in working in hospitality.

If you're interested in developing your career further within the restaurant trade, there are also opportunities for progression here. You may decide to progress into silver service or fine dining food service. This is a more specialised type of food server work that could increase your earnings, as detailed earlier. Alternatively, you could progress to working as a head waiter or supervisor. Eventually, you might progress into a role like working in restaurant or kitchen management. As you gain more experience within a restaurant environment, you might even decide to open your own restaurant.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Related:

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  • How To Write a Waiter / Waitress CV (With Example)

  • 12 back of house and front of house jobs in a kitchen

  • How front-of-house management in restaurants works

  • 14 restaurant positions and their duties (with salaries)


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