How to Be the Best Waitress Ever (Focus on the Customer)

Updated on June 28, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

To be the best waiter or waitress, it helps if you are calm and friendly.
To be the best waiter or waitress, it helps if you are calm and friendly. | Source

5 Golden Rules of Great Customer Service

The best waiting-on staff seem to have eyes in the back of their head. They smoothly take food orders, clear away dirty platters and greet new customers. All without raising a sweat. They deal calmly with rude people and have a smile and cheerful greeting for every client. They are unflappable. If you want to follow in their footsteps, follow these 5 golden rules.

  1. Be cheerful and polite. People subconsciously mirror your behavior. If you are agitated, they will become anxious. If you are pleasant they will respond in a positive manner. And remember to smile. Often.
  2. Be attentive but not intrusive. Keep an eye on “your” tables and remove dirty dishes quickly. If someone’s glass is nearly empty, offer a refill. Keep your customers informed if there is going to be a delay with their food order.
  3. Do not hover or interrupt conversations. Diners are having a good time with their friends. Do your job well, and you become almost invisible.
  4. Know the menu inside out. Learn the key ingredients of each recipe and be able to confidently describe all the day’s specials. Be aware of common food allergies. If someone asks a question you cannot answer, do not guess, check with the chef.
  5. The customer is always right. Remain polite no matter how you really feel inside. And smile. Again.

Top Waiting Tips: Be the Best Waiter

Serious Career or Only a Holiday Job?

Your role as a waiter or waitress could be seasonal or permanent. Perhaps you are waiting on tables as a way of getting work experience? Or you have taken the job to pay your way through college, but would like a “real” job when you get a degree. It does not matter. Your customers are not interested in why you are there. They just want to receive good service and have a great time at your restaurant.

To be the best at your job you need to understand your role and be willing to learn from your peers. Whatever career path you intend to follow, make the most of this opportunity to gain useful customer service skills. Most of these will be useful in any work setting.

A waitressing job can help finance college studies.
A waitressing job can help finance college studies. | Source

How To Be a Great Restaurant Host

  • Always look neat and tidy. Be professional and people will respect you.
  • Know the menu inside out. Small details matter when giving great customer service. Diners rely on you for information about their meal.
  • Upsell politely. People respond well to appropriate suggested additions to their meal.
  • Multitask. Work co-operatively with your colleagues and be part of a team. Be alert for empty dishes and clear tables promptly.

Experienced waiters make attentive waiting-on service seem easy.
Experienced waiters make attentive waiting-on service seem easy. | Source

Lights! Camera! Action!

Some people love working in a front-of-house role whilst others are less enthusiastic. The problem with customer-facing jobs is the client expects excellent service every time, no matter how you are feeling. I find the best way to face the public is to treat the job as if you were an actor. Put on your uniform, slap on a smile and go out and meet your audience.

I used to use this analogy as a bit of a joke and then I discovered Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Broadway, in New York City. The hosts and servers in this restaurant are all actors and singers waiting to be discovered. Are they any less committed to their jobs because they intend to leave as soon as opportunity knocks? Not at all. Next time you visit New York, I recommend you visit Ellen’s and watch and learn the tricks of the trade from them.

Staff at Ellen’s Stardust Diner demonstrate all the elements of good customer service. In my view, they are the best in town. In return, the restaurant’s management supports their theatrical dreams. Waiters, waitresses, hosts, they all take turns to perform songs from musical theatre in-between serving customers. It is the real deal; tasty food, family entertainment and top-notch service.

Servers at Ellen's Stardust Diner Sing Cabaret

Teamwork and Common Sense Are Essential

As a front-of-house employee you are reliant on the hard work of kitchen staff. Treat them and their cooking with respect and you and the team will thrive. When hot dishes are ready, get them from the pass to your tables as soon as possible. Customers will appreciate your prompt attention and can enjoy the food at its best. With luck, their good experience will translate into a great tip at the end of the meal. However, tips are not guaranteed. Any tip, large or small, should be treated as a bonus.

Waiting tables in a busy restaurant is exhausting. Make it easier for yourself by wearing comfortable shoes.

Depending on where you are working, there are rules about taking meal breaks. In the UK, you must have a 20 minutes break in each 6-hour shift (this may be unpaid). Make sure you take the chance to sit down when you can. It can make all the difference to whether you survive this job or walk out defeated.

Above all, remember to have fun. A large part of your waking day is spent at work. If you love your job the hours will fly by. The New York diner mentioned above is a good example of how to be the best waitress ever and have a fun time too.

The video below shows staff at Ellen’s Stardust restaurant performing and serving customers at the same time. Notice how one of the backing singers continues to operate the till as she sings. Several other staff members are clearing plates and bringing out food as they chime in for the chorus.

Rolling on the River is a Hit With Staff and Customers

Facts about Waiters and Waitresses from US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The 2016 Median Pay for servers was $19,990 per year or $9.61 per hour.

A typical entry-level job in this sector required no formal educational qualifications nor any previous work experience. Waiters and waitresses receive short-term on-the-job training.

The overall number of jobs of this type in the US in 2014 was 2,465,100. The projected number of extra jobs to be created between 2014-24 is 68,900.

Good teamwork is the key to great customer service.
Good teamwork is the key to great customer service. | Source

UK Wage Rates for Restaurant Staff

Waiters and waitresses in the UK typically receive the national minimum wage (NMW). From April 2018 NMW ranges from £4.20 per hour for under-18s to £7.83 per hour for staff aged over 25.

No educational qualifications are required for entry level jobs in this industry. Some staff receive elementary training in food hygiene.

A survey by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2016, found that 3.5% of bar staff and waiting table staff were paid below the legal minimum wage. Few staff complain and even fewer employers are prosecuted for breaking employment law.

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be a Waiter or Waitress?

There are no minimum qualifications needed to be a waiter or waitress. A potential employer will want someone who has good personal hygiene and can work as part of a team. Some employers will give you basic training in food hygiene and customer service skills. Others have more comprehensive management training plans for anyone who shows potential.

If you are still in school and are unsure whether this is the career for you, try and get a junior role at your local restaurant, clearing tables and washing-up for a few hours a week. This will give you a flavor of the food service sector.

If you are older (of any age) and you are interested in a permanent career in hospitality, apply for one of the apprenticeship or management training schemes offered by many of the big hotel chains.

8 Tips for Restaurant Hosts and Waiting-On Staff

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