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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLhPfGa1ZWs.
Quick Facts: Waiters and Waitresses
2021 Median Pay $26,000 per year
$12.50 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2020 2,023,200
Job Outlook, 2020-30 20% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 407,600

What Waiters and Waitresses Do

Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.

Work Environment

Waiters and waitresses work in restaurants, bars, hotels, and other food-serving and drinking establishments. Part-time work is common, and schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress

Waiters and waitresses typically do not need formal education to enter the occupation. They are typically trained on the job.

Pay

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $12.50 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 20 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 470,200 openings for waiters and waitresses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for waiters and waitresses.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of waiters and waitresses with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about waiters and waitresses by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Waiters and Waitresses Do About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Some states require workers who serve alcohol to be at least 18 years old.

Waiters and waitresses take orders and serve food and beverages to customers in dining establishments.

Duties

Waiters and waitresses typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, explain daily specials, and answer questions related to the menu
  • Take orders from customers for food and beverages
  • Relay food and beverage orders to the kitchen, such as via a point-of-sale system
  • Prepare certain menu items, such as assembling garnishes or brewing coffee
  • Carry trays of food or drinks from the kitchen to the dining tables
  • Check on customers to confirm satisfaction and assist with other requests
  • Clear tables after customers finish dining, or as needed
  • Prepare customers’ itemized checks, take payment, and return change
  • Set up dining areas and stock service areas

Waiters and waitresses, also called servers, ensure that customers have a satisfying dining experience. Specific duties vary with the establishment in which they work.

Before and between waiting on customers, servers usually prepare tables and work stations. Tasks may include refilling containers, such as napkin holders, salt and pepper shakers, and condiment dispensers; keeping tables from becoming overcrowded; and tidying the serving area and dining room. Servers also may prepare some foods and nonalcoholic drinks, such as assembling salads, brewing coffee, and portioning desserts. In fine-dining restaurants, they may set tables with linens, eating utensils, and glassware.

Food service duties include taking customers’ orders, placing those orders with the kitchen, and delivering food and drinks to the table. Servers attend to customers throughout the meal and collect payment at the end. In restaurants that do not employ bus staff, servers often are responsible for cleaning tables after customers finish dining.

In establishments that sell alcohol, servers verify that customers meet the age requirement for its purchase.

Servers may meet with managers and chefs before each shift to discuss topics such as the menu or specials, ingredients for potential food allergies, and coordination between the kitchen and dining room. They may have cleaning duties, such as vacuuming carpet and emptying trash, at the end of the shift.

Work Environment About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waiters and waitresses mostly work in full-service restaurants.

Waiters and waitresses held about 2.0 million jobs in 2020. The largest employers of waiters and waitresses were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 82%
Traveler accommodation 5
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 3

Waiters and waitresses stand most of their shift and often carry heavy trays of food, dishes, and drinks. The work may be hectic and fast-paced. During busy dining periods, they may be under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. They must be able to work as part of a team with kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Waiters and waitresses may be required to wear a uniform or to comply with a specific dress code.

Work Schedules

Part time work is common, and schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

How to Become a Waiter or Waitress About this section

Waiters and waitresses
Waiters and waitresses typically learn on the job.

Waiters and waitresses typically do not need formal education or related work experience to enter the occupation. They typically learn through on-the-job training that lasts 1 month or less.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old, but some states require servers to be older. Waiters and waitresses who serve alcohol must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Education

Typically, no formal education is required to become a waiter or waitress. However, some employers require or prefer that workers have a high school diploma.

Training

Waiters and waitresses typically learn through short-term on-the-job-training, usually lasting from several days to a few weeks. Trainees typically work with an experienced waiter or waitress, who teaches them basic serving techniques.

On-the-job training helps new workers learn serving techniques and use of the restaurant’s order-placement, payment, and other systems. Training also prepares waiters and waitresses to properly handle difficult situations and unpleasant or unruly customers.

Training for waiters and waitresses in establishments that serve alcohol typically involves learning state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Some states, counties, and cities mandate the training, which typically lasts a few hours and may be offered online or in-house.

Some states require that servers take training related to the safe handling of food.

Advancement

Waiters and waitresses who have experience may advance to work in fine-dining restaurants. Advancement may offer improved conditions, such as preferred schedules or higher tips.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Waiters and waitresses must listen to customers, ask questions as needed, and relay information to the kitchen staff so that orders are prepared to the customers’ satisfaction.

Customer-service skills. Waiters and waitresses are frontline workers for their restaurant. They should be friendly and polite and be able to develop a rapport with customers.

Detail oriented. Waiters and waitresses must record customers’ orders accurately. They should be able to recall the details of each order and match the food or drink orders to the correct customers.

Physical stamina. Waiters and waitresses spend most of their work hours standing or walking and carrying trays, dishes, and drinks.

Physical strength. Waiters and waitresses need to be able to lift and carry trays of food or other items.

Pay About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$22.00

Food and beverage serving workers

$12.50

Waiters and waitresses

$12.50

 

The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $12.50 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.58, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.07.

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for waiters and waitresses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Arts, entertainment, and recreation $12.53
Restaurants and other eating places 12.32
Traveler accommodation 12.26

These wage data include tips. Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage, which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website listing minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Part-time work is common for waiters and waitresses. Schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

In establishments that offer seasonal employment, waiters and waitresses may be employed for only a few months each year.

Job Outlook About this section

Waiters and Waitresses

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Waiters and waitresses

20%

Food and beverage serving workers

18%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of waiters and waitresses is projected to grow 20 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 470,200 openings for waiters and waitresses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.

As the population grows and more people dine out, new restaurants are expected to open. Many establishments, particularly full-service restaurants, will continue to use waiters and waitresses to serve food and beverages and to provide customer service.

Employment projections data for waiters and waitresses, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Waiters and waitresses

35-3031 2,023,200 2,430,700 20 407,600 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of waiters and waitresses.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Bartenders Bartenders

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

No formal educational credential $26,350
Cashiers Cashiers

Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

No formal educational credential $27,260
Flight attendants Flight Attendants

Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.

High school diploma or equivalent $61,640
Food and beverage serving and related workers Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers take and prepare orders, clear tables, and do other tasks associated with providing food and drink to customers.

No formal educational credential $25,980
Retail sales workers Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers’ payments.

No formal educational credential $29,180
Food service managers Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages.

High school diploma or equivalent $59,440
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Waiters and Waitresses,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/waiters-and-waitresses.htm (visited July 05, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Friday, June 3, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2020

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2020, which is the base year of the 2020-30 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2020-30

The projected percent change in employment from 2020 to 2030. The average growth rate for all occupations is 8 percent.

Employment Change, 2020-30

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2020-30

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2020 to 2030.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.