How To Get A Serving Job
There are two kinds of people in this world—those who have served in the restaurant industry and those who haven’t. And if you’re currently looking to cross over to the server side, this article is for you.
It’s a common misconception that finding a waitstaff job at a restaurant is easy. However, waiting tables is not as easy as it may seem, and many restaurants require several years of serving experience. Nevertheless, a serving job can bring you lifelong skills and relationships. You will gain strong multitasking abilities, communication skills, and lots of patience to work in the food service industry. In this article, we’ll break down the steps you need to take to get a server job.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Why become a restaurant server?
We could write an entire separate article on reasons why everyone should be a server at one point in their lives. But, we’ll keep it brief for you! There are many reasons you should consider a job serving. Here are some common reasons why someone might choose to become a restaurant server:
Flexibility - The restaurant industry often offers flexible work hours, you don’t usually have to work 9-5. This can be appealing to individuals with other commitments, such as students, parents, or those pursuing additional interests or part-time work.
Income - Servers often have the opportunity to earn tips, which can significantly boost their income. When you need more income you can simply work more hours. The busier shifts you work, the more money you’ll make.
Social interaction - If you enjoy meeting new people and engaging in conversations, serving in a restaurant provides a platform for regular social interaction.
Fast-paced atmosphere -The fast-paced nature of restaurant work can be appealing if you thrive in dynamic environments. There is a lot less standing around compared to slower jobs, which can make your shift go by faster.
Beyond these examples, being a part of a restaurant team is something special. Not only do you host people’s best nights but you build relationships along the way. Working alongside co-workers during chaotic shifts is a bonding experience unlike any other. In this industry, you get the opportunity to work with people of different ages, backgrounds, goals, and so much more. A restaurant has a unique work environment worth exploring.
What are the benefits of working in the restaurant industry?
Restaurant benefits range from business to business. Most restaurants offer server minimum wage and tips. If you’re looking for a full-time career in the industry, make sure you find a restaurant that offers insurance and other benefits.
Beyond pay and benefits, there are many skills you can learn in the industry. Whether you’re considering a career in service or just need a job for a few years, here are some transferable skills you learn at a restaurant:
Time management - Steps of service teach you how to make the most out of your time as a server. When walking across the restaurant, planning your next move, and doing side work as you go, you learn how to manage every second.
Communication - Communicating effectively with both guests and staff is a huge part of this job. Servers need to communicate details about specials, questions about orders, and relay specifics to co-workers.
Teamwork - Restaurants are fast-paced environments that require effective teamwork. Working as a server allows you to develop your ability to collaborate with your fellow staff to ensure smooth operations. Setting your team up for success is essential.
Culinary Exposure - If you have an interest in food and beverages, being a server allows you to learn about different cuisines, ingredients, and preparation methods. You get to learn about food safety and proper pairings.
Customer Service Experience - Serving in a restaurant provides valuable customer service experience, a skill that can be applicable in various industries. Learning how to handle customer complaints and provide excellent service is beneficial in building a strong customer service foundation.
How to find a serving job
Now let’s get into it – how do you actually find a serving position? It may take patience and persistence, but we’ve included good tips for you below.
Follow these steps to get a waiter job:
1. Write your resume
A restaurant resume including all your past restaurant experience is essential. Include all restaurant experience. Were you a busser? Food runner? Host? A well-rounded restaurant team member makes for a better hire than someone who can only wait tables. Also, make sure to include any experience you have using a point of sale. Even if the restaurant uses a different POS system than what you’re familiar with it’s still a useful skill.
Another pro tip is to customize your resume for the type of restaurant you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to a restaurant with a heavy cocktail/bar scene, highlight your experience in alcohol training/wine pairing. This shows the hiring manager that you have an understanding of craft cocktails and wine service. Lastly, have your food safety card and be tips certified in your city.
Need some help crafting your resume? No worries, check out our article on How to Create a Server Resume (Skills, Examples).
2. Decide on a location
Once your resume is ready to go and you’ve printed out copies it’s time to decide where you want to work. First, decide on a location. What city or neighborhoods are most convenient for you? It’s important to consider your daily commute and how you will get to work each day.
Once you have your location down, narrow your search to restaurants you want to work at. Make a list of your favorites. To find a restaurant that’s high volume, and will make you the most tips, Google restaurants in that area that are “most popular”, “new restaurants”, “best restaurants” or are simply restaurants you love. If you’re more interested in a smaller restaurant that’s less chaotic, Google restaurants that are “small businesses”, “wine bars”, “bistros”, or “hole-in-the-wall restaurants”. TikTok is a great resource to use for a visual of different restaurant types.
3. Go door to door
You may not like this step, but it’s essential. Take your resume and go door to door to the restaurants you included on your list. Actually going in person shows initiative that you want to work, and you’re willing to hustle.
Make sure you look up the restaurants’ hours, but usually, showing up between 2 - 4 PM and asking for a manager tends to work well. Don’t show up to a restaurant on a Friday at 7 PM asking for a manager – you likely won’t catch them at a good time.
Once inside, ask the host/bartender for the manager. If they say the manager is not in yet, politely ask what time they can expect them to come in. Don’t leave your resume with any staff members other than management, you won’t want it to get lost. When the manager greets you shake their hand, and tell them you’re interested in working at the restaurant. Offer them the resume, and ask if they’re hiring. Even if they say they’re not hiring, insist on leaving the resume just in case and for the future. And of course, make sure to thank them! Easy work!
4. Prepare to interview
Next comes the interview. Some managers will contact you after you give them your resume and some might interview you on the spot. So make sure you’re prepared for an interview at any moment. Whether you’re interviewing at a fine dining establishment or a local fast food restaurant, dress to impress. This means wearing business casual attire that you would wear in a corporate interview.
If the restaurant provided a job description use it to your advantage. Read what qualifications they highlighted in the description and make sure to talk about them in your interview. For example, if a qualification is using a restaurant POS talk about your experience and which POS you used. In fact, talk about your work experience in any capacity. Previous experience is key here. It’s also important to review menu items before an interview so you can come prepared with any questions and already have an understanding of what the restaurant serves.
Some common interview questions for servers are:
Why do you want to work at this restaurant?
Do you prefer to work with a team or independently?
What does hospitality mean to you?
How would you go about upselling a menu item?
What are your desired work hours and availability?
Need more interview prep? We got you covered! Check out this article on Interview Questions for Restaurant Server Candidates (Examples).
Lastly, make sure to get the email of the manager who interviewed you. A follow-up thank you email after your interview goes a long way. As soon as possible simply write:
Dear (manager name),
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. It was a pleasure to meet you and learn more about (restaurant name). Please let me know if I can provide any further information. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
5. Attend a stage shift
The next step is typically to attend a stage shift. A stage shift has different meanings for different roles in a restaurant. However, for front of house, a stage shift is when you come in for a shift and see if you’re a good fit for the restaurant. This is an opportunity for you to see if you like this restaurant, and for the restaurant staff to make sure you’re the right person for the job. This way, you’re not wasting your time or the restaurant’s time.
When preparing for a stage shift just remember to be yourself. Ask the manager about the dress code, and come prepared with an apron, pens & paper, and knowledge of the menu. Ask as many questions as you need and do the best you can. It’ll either be a natural fit or not. Regardless of how the stage shift goes, thank the staff that trained you and the manager.
From here you and the manager will decide whether or not to proceed with the hiring process. Typically after the shift you’ll either politely decline the job or start filling out your new hire paperwork. Make sure to bring 2 forms of ID to your stage shift just in case.
What to consider to get a job
There are a few things to consider when trying to find a serving job. These variables may affect how difficult it is to become employed.
Busy season - Understanding a restaurant’s busy season can help you know when to apply. This depends on a restaurant’s location and concept, but typically the early fall and late spring are great times for hiring.
Holidays - If you are applying for a job close to the holidays, managers may expect you to work over certain holidays. This is because you’re new to the business and don’t have tenure yet. Make sure you’re aware of this if you want to keep your job.
Personality - Be personable when speaking to management. Personality hires are a real thing, especially in an industry where you’re working face-to-face with customers every day. You can have all the experience in the world but if the manager doesn’t find you personable you won’t get hired.
Employment resources - There are many apps and resources that can help you find a restaurant job. Check out Harri hire, Indeed, and Culinary Agents. We recommend you use these to find job listings but still apply in person.
Lastly, don’t work somewhere you wouldn’t dine at yourself. But at the same time, don’t work somewhere where they consider you a regular. Choose a restaurant with the right ambiance for you. It’s important to like where you work.
How to be a good server
Before you can start dazzling guests with your ability to pair anything on the menu with a suitable beverage choice, you need to master the basics.
Part of that starts with being a good teammate, which means mastering your side work. From there, it's all about optimizing your interactions.
The following steps outline the foundational skills you need to be a good server.
Study and memorize the steps of service.
Know the menu inside out and backward.
Get comfortable with your POS system.
Learn your restaurant’s allergy protocol.
Complete any necessary certification courses (and always be learning.)
Wear non-slip shoes.
Get a checkbook for your receipts, tips, and orders.
Buy a ton of pens
For more tips on how to be a good server (and make more tips!), check out this article.
Serving up jobs
You now know what it takes to get a server job. It’s up to you to go out there and find it. The restaurant industry can be a rewarding place to work- start your career today! Toast has plenty of server resources to help you along the way. Check out more server content below, and good luck with your job search!
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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.