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How to wait tables

Updated on September 8, 2012

I've been in the food service industry from the ripe old age of 14. I've worked in delicatessens, diners, sit-down lunch eateries and even upscale restaurants. Over the years I've developed some techniques and had a few lessons stuffed under my belt from my experience... these I would like to impart to you.

1) There is ALWAYS something to do

The older waittresses never hesitate to let the new bussers know this. Just when you think that you've cleared every table, put away every glass, replaced every sugar holder, your co-worker reminds you that there are lemons to be cut, tea to brew... windows to wash. If there's a broken appliance no one in the restaurant can fix, call an expert and make sure you've done everything you can to make up for its absence.

And if there really isn't anything that needs to be done, then your boss probably would have sent you home already. So there.

2) Don't take away a plate unless there's nothing on it or you ask

It's pretty bad if you try to take away someone's food while they're still eating it. Even if they're friendly about it (and humans instinctively aren't too keen on having food stolen), I still feel bad if I intrude in that way.

3) Keep friendliness at an appropriate level

It depends on the environment of the restaurant. Local diners, for instance, are more permissive and maybe even approving of extra chatter. However, patrons of fancy restaurants tend to be more reclusive and solitary, wanting to remain solely in their own company. Loquaciousness can lose you tips.

4) Be able to BS

This is a quality I have developed over the years. If I don't know what the special is, I BS. If I'm not sure what the salad is made of, I BS. I mean, if there's time to ask the chefs, then I'm more than willing to try. But if it's so busy I can't even remember where we are, then ok, there's no choice but to bust out my skills.

5) Keep on top of the crowd

Falling behind sucks. Royally. So if you have the time, make sure every ketchup is filled, the receipt printer has enough paper and ink, and there's enough silverware to last all day. And try to expect anything. The computer might die, you might run out of food, a swarm of bees might approach the patio... yeah, it happens.

This applies to when customers are seated, too. If you have a second and you see a half-filled glass, fill it up.

6) Wear comfortable shoes

If you're doing your job right, you're walking around a lot (maybe even running). And if you're doing this, you'll need good shoes. You can't be afraid to spend money on workclothes; they need to feel good but look good too.

7) Always take a tray with you

You might just be taking out a cup of coffee to someone, but on the way back you might see a table needing to be cleared. You should be ready with a tray so you don't need to make an extra trip. Also, it looks nicer if you have a tray.

8) Have good people skills

Nothing will kill a tip like snubbing customers. While there are some people whom you just can't please, there are definitely some waiters and waitresses that lose out with an impatient gesture or rude remark. You don't own the tip; you earn it. Personally I get good tips if I'm smiling; people seem to like to see their servers laughing and enjoying themselves so they feel more free to be happy as well.


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      Dan 5 years ago

      I worked as a waiter for five years, the worst thing to deal with are abusive guests, it can ruin your performance for the whole day, nobody is so mentally strong that it won't affect them. I would say now that its probably best to go to another restaurant than to stay if you experience a lot of abusive guests.

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      really 6 years ago

      So in a world where grad students and parents can not find jobs to support their families or pay loans, we mock hard working individuals. Serving Is a career and a talent. Nathan, no one is slapping the dick out of your mouth, so calm the fuck down, tip, and enjoy the well deserved spit in your burger. Dick. And no typos.

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      stoll 6 years ago

      People like Nathan and th e bitch above are probably some people that were raised by a snobby family and have had everything handed to should do what you enjoy or what you gotta do at the time...I have a degree and have worked in corporate if you wait tables your not a loser...sorry for those who sit at a computer all day with a boring life....and talking down on someone because of what they do....remember karma is a bitch

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      Anti-tip 6 years ago

      LOL @ Nathan comments from butt hurt waitress and waiters.

      A person waiting tables to pay through school = fine

      A person doing it as a full time job = loser.

      Reminds me of this fat hipster Asian girl in her 30s and she's a bartender, no wonder she was embarassed to tell me about her fucking job, haha.

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      j Bird 6 years ago

      Nathan - Please go drive very fast with your eyes closed. : )

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      Springs1 6 years ago


      "I also worked as a waitress for many years. One things a waitress should never do is ask if you want a refill. If you see a drink at halfway or less full, then refill it. I am sitting here with a full plate of food...Don't ask me if I want a refill..Of course I do!!!"

      Sorry, but sometimes I want something else, I 100% DISAGREE with you. You should ******ALWAYS****** ask. A good way would be at the greeting ask if people would like refills without being asked. NOT EVERYONE WANTS THAT!! I have literally sent servers back and got what a different drink.

      WHO are you to ORDER FOR ME? You aren't paying for the service, *I* am.

      Guess what, if you as a customer hate being asked that, WHY DON'T YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND ASKS YOUR SERVER "Could I please get refills automatically without being asked throughout my service?" I order when I want something, you should too.

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      ashley 6 years ago

      Nathan, you are an idiot. You surely do not think that someone should serve you for free, are you fucking delusional? You are not a king, and you are not special to anyone, except maybe your mother, who should have her ass stomped for not teaching you some better manners! If you feel that strongly about it why don't you tell your waitress before you order that you only plan on tipping him/her $2.00 so that they will be sure to give your sorry ass $2.00 worth of service? You are no better than anyone and for you to think any differently is absurd. I do hope that you don't return to these restaurants where you leave $2.00 tips, but somehow I just know that you do! Hopefully you will have a head on collision with a train tonight so that no other server will have to be bothered with your stupidity. If not, we can always hope for tomorrow! Stupid Prick!

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      I hate Nathan 6 years ago

      Nathan is a stupid fucking moron who not only can't spell but had obviously never waited tables. I'm sure he's a fucking horrible tipper to boot. No one wants to hear your stupid ass opinion, I'm guessing you were the rich kid who got picked on and got your ass kicked in school, sounds like you need another ass kicking.

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      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments... and for your understanding! :)

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      Waiting Tables 7 years ago

      It's not easy, but I've been waiting tables for over a year now and have found it really rewarding. I can also attest to your eight golden rules, each is important in being a good waiter/waitress :)

      Great article and Voted UP! :D

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      G.H 7 years ago

      I've work as a waitress for 12 years.

      I'ts not an easy job! People can be rude.

      And sometimes you get soooo busy it makes you nuts.

      But you learn to keep your cool and smile...



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      cblack 7 years ago from a beach somewhere

      I also worked as a waitress for many years. One things a waitress should never do is ask if you want a refill. If you see a drink at halfway or less full, then refill it. I am sitting here with a full plate of food...Don't ask me if I want a refill..Of course I do!!!

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      noles_nc 7 years ago

      Some other things that waiters do that are bad business:

      1. Ask to take one person's plate away while the other person still has his/hers.

      2. Make me wait for a drink or another round (alcohol = money).

      3. Try to handle big problems on your own. (If the kitchen screws up an order and the table has to wait, tell a manager even if the table does not appear upset-she'll hopefully get a comped app to the table right away.)

      4. Keep returning to the table and asking if everything is alright (Get the drinks, the food, do a 2-bite check-in, and then keep an eye on the table- stop interrupting).

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      Gail 8 years ago

      Nick, you rock. You summed it up all so well. People, like Nathan, who complain about service/tips have not worked in our shoes. Sure, all you office workers leave personal life outside, but it's hard work tending to every whim and half filled glass with a smile. That, in and of its self, is a dificult feat and is often overlooked.

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      Nick 8 years ago

      Oh Nathan...Ive heard your argument so many times its mind numbing. Hell its repeated in the movie Resevoir Dogs, which is unfortunate because a lot of people began to think it was cool to be a douche after seeing it. Since you are trolling for comments... Ill bite.

      I've been waiting tables fot 2 years now to pay for college because The shifts are short and its hard to find a job that averages 25-30 bucks an hour with a super flexible schedule while not having a degree. The flexible schedule helps get around deadlines for school.

      I agree that the tipping situation is feels strange, for the most part it is charity. After all this time I admit Ive become a bit acustomed to the 15-20% percent rule for normal people. I say normal because most tipping usually goes by this:

      French vacationers 0-5%

      Retired people who dont feel loved 5-10%

      Normal 15-20%

      Young people on dates, retired happy people, people who feel like they owe you something because they were rude or just pity you 21%+

      Do notice that there is no 20-30% rule. In fact, 21-30% is way too much. If you feel like you got to tip that much you are feeling guilty man. Lighten up.

      You are very much right that waiters are much to preoccupied with the tip. Just take care of the people like they were your favorite people ever and the tip will follow. If you are the person being waited on, do the same.

      Your problem is that he is tipping mechanically and therefore it feels forced. Nobody like feeling like they have to tip, again, treated it like the charity that it is and you will feel better doing it. Also be happy that you have the freedom to tip what you want, as opposed to these foreign restaurants that (force) you to tip 20%.

      If you are lacking perspective, please realise that some waiter or waitress has strapped on a smile for 4-6 hours straight for lots of people, masked the stressors of their lives (typically school, kids, family) and is doing their best to convey a positive attitude. All the while they are are taking care of roughly 20 guests who all have special needs, different eating rates, and different moods that you try to accommodate for. Mind you usually 1/10 of these guests are kids who are messy, and pissing off other guests, and the kitchen screws up orders and slows down under high volumes too. Then, that smiling waiter is also dealing with the drunks, the people fighting (who take it out on the waiter), the people who can't make up their minds at all, the extremely picky, those with food allergies, those that only ever want "just one more thing", those that want to create their own meals, the life story tellers, the senile, and my favorite, the people who always bitch after the meal is done and think it justifies the lame tip. Waiters deal with facets of human beings you will not and cannot understand in its entirity until you stand in our shoes.

      Yes all of this is part of the job and yes, we in fact do get the same base wage that they pay the workers of fabulous restuarants such as McDonalds and likely the person you pay to clean your bathroom. Yes we learn to deal with it all. ( If someone is not busy and service sucks, by all means give them 5-10% as a reminder as why they should careand to get their shit together.

      It is charity to tip well, and please realize that a big tips are always really appreciated, and a bad tip is like spit in the face if underserved. A little understanding goes a long, long way...

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      KP  8 years ago

      Nathan is probably a doctor. What a D-bag. Perhaps he should try waiting tables and majoring in mol gen at an ivy league school... Stay strong fellow servers.

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      Jeff Davis 8 years ago from California

      First of all, this is a great hub, and funny. I am fond of number 4 myself... "i'm sorry the espresso machine is broken, cup of coffee instead?" sometimes you're too busy as a server to get back and make a latte...there's a starbucks across the street.

      Secondly, Nathan's words are pretty harsh, and I think i speak for everyone when i say that negativity like that doesn't benefit anyone. tisk tisk. I'm happy working 5 hours a day and making money to pay off college loans, plus getting days off for trips is easy. Another thing Nathan, leaving waiting tables up to highschool kids is an asshole of an idea... relax. Keep up the good hubs.

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      Katie Luense 8 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      You should be proud of that! It is quite an accomplishment to not only graduate with a college degree, but to know that you earned the money to pay for it! Wow, you should be proud of yourself, I know that I am proud of you! Never have any regrets in life. Know that you did what you had to do to get the task accomplished. There are a lot of Natahan's in this word, However, you must rise above and shine no mater what. I know you will go far in this world. I will pray for your continued wisdom. Life is not easy. However, life is what you make of it. So far, your doing just fine!

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      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      I agree, cluense; those comments were pretty harsh! I, like you, didn't really care about pride when I worked at a restaurant... I had to make money to go to college! I made enough to put myself through state school and graduate, and I'm proud of it now... I couldn't have done it without working at the restaurant!

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      Katie Luense 8 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      It is very hard for me to read Nathan's comments. I held a college degree, worked in corporate America for 18 years, went through a divorce, became a single mom, and needed a job where I could spend time with my daughter. So, I went to work as a waitress. I loved the job. In my mind, I was a sales person. I just happened to sell food. There is nothing wrong in making a career out of waiting tables. The job is physical in nature, and requires the ability to interact with the public. However, I found it to be quite profitable. I was pulling in anywhere from $100.00 to $250.00 a day for six hours of work. It allowed me to work when my daughter was at school and be home with her the rest of the time. To me, it was better then working 100 hours a week bringing home only $350.00 after taxes.

      I was not going after the job description. When you have children to provide for, pride goes out the window! I was going after the lifestyle that it afforded me. Personally, I am grateful for my time as a waitress. It has allowed me to view the serving profession as a valuable service to my fellow man. Also, it gave me a better appreciation of the individuals that work in that profession. I guess if you are prideful and stuck up you would see it in a different light.

      However, I see it as a blessing. It takes a very special individual to serve another. That quality is not born into everyone. There is no shame in serving another. However, there is shame in being a pampas *ss.

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      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California



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      Nathan 8 years ago

      Waiters need to learn to not work for tips. Most other countries don't do this, and don't give me the excuse that their service is worse. If an establishment wants good service they should pay their servers. I hate tipping more that I hate cleaning the bathroom. Not to say that I don't tip, actually always tip.

      The fact of the matter is that most waiters/waitresses are a lot shittier at their job than they like to think. But, the main reason I hate tipping is because the 20% or 30% rule don't always apply. For instance, if my meal is 3.00$ and I leave $0.60 on the table you are going to go fucking retarded about the money. Now, if my meal is 100$ and I leave 15$ you are still going to go retarded about the tip.

      The way I see it, is that if you have 5 tables/hr and each table leaves 2$ no matter the cost of the meal, you are making 10$/hr. 10$/hr for someone who has no formal education, or real technical skills is pretty good.

      And don't get all huffy and puffy talking about your bullshit art degree and the fact that you wait tables. Waiting REQUIRES NO EDUCATION OR SKILL. It should be left for highschool kids. If you are 30 years old and waiting tables, and still bitching about bad tips, you are a moron.

      Get a real skill, find a new job, open a banking account, and learn how to spend your money wisely.

      P.S. If there are typos and grammatical errors, I really don't care. So don't make that a point of argument or defense.

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      Jonathan 8 years ago

      I was a server for years and enjoyed every minute of it. I agree with the writer of this article. Some of the reviews of the article are negative. "Im a great waiter and I dont use any of this stuff...bla, bla, bla". Most waiters are not half as good as they think. In fact, most waiters suck. Leaving a tip has become part of our culture. The key to better tips is not good service, its getting the ticket total up. So...waiters need to learn to sell, sell, sell.

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      jset 9 years ago

      The motto at Cheesecake Factory was "Time to lean, time to clean".

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      glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

      How can you not wear comfortable shoes? Haha, but anyway, I see what you mean about just being real and communicating well, but the tips also apply to how you wait tables with coworkers. I hated it when I would have to do the background work because no one else was, and waiters and waittresses I worked with who have been in the industry for longer than you guys probably were said the same thing, and taught me all I know.

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      Rachael 9 years ago

      It helped put you THREW college? Ha. But I agree with you. I didn't do any of this either. Though I am out of the food industry now (THANK GOD) I cleared an insane amount of money because of just knowing how to communicate with people. It also helped me obtain my BA.

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      Lenny 9 years ago

      Oh, hey. I have been a server since I was 18. It's helped put me threw college and now paying for Grad School. And I laughed at this entire thing. In ten years I have never had a complaint and I don't do any of those things. If you are just REAL to people and not a moron, you will be fine.

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      Barry Rutherford 10 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Nice blog. Also I always used to serve from the right take away from the left.

      And smile all the time if you way to get tips..