11 Essential Tips and Tricks for Servers

A restaurant server walking and carrying plates
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With one of the most diverse employee compositions, the global consumer food service industry is a significant part of the world’s economy, with a value of over $1.85 trillion (£1.4 trillion), as reported by Forbes. Some would also say that the industry is a melting pot when it comes to the people in the front lines, namely the servers.

Having had my stint or two as a waitress, both during my years in university and beyond, I can confidently say that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It is another school of sorts, and playing your cards right can mean better tips, a variety of adaptable skills and, depending on where you would like to head career-wise, a network of connections and opportunities.

Check out the list of tips below for a little inspiration, a little education and a little something extra on how to be a good server.

1. Embrace It

While not the easiest line of work, waiting tables does become a bit more pleasant when you embrace your presence there. Take it to face value that you are now a part of a sometimes not-so-well-oiled machine and, as in any job, your contribution is valued and essential.

So, learn the ropes and procedures, and listen to those little titbits of advice and wisdom that will make your job just a little easier. Remember: not everything has to be perfect for things to run, so stop wasting time complaining about it.

2. Follow Etiquette

Take pride in your appearance. Make sure you show up to work on time, wearing the designated attire in a neat and orderly fashion. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and safe, as you will be doing a lot of walking back and forth, and in and out of a (sometimes) oily kitchen floor. Also, the small things make a big difference, like clean hands and nails, combed hair – and please, please, please use deodorant.

3. Be Proactive

If there’s something that is interfering with your ability to perform your duties as a server, and especially if you have a solution for it, speak to your line manager or the appropriate person in the restaurant. Be respectful and offer your thoughts and ideas.

Coming up with problems is easy but coming up with smart solutions is the way to a better work shift. If there is a possibility of training and acquiring more skills, by all means: take it.

4. Be Respectful

I cannot stress this enough.

Not only should you be respectful to customers and your boss, but also to your coworkers. Keep in mind that your colleagues are the people who can make your shift easier, more pleasant and maybe even a little fun. A good working relationship with your colleagues can mean help when you’re swamped, a little laugh during a break and an offer to cover your shift when you really need to be somewhere else.

5. Master Your Soft Skills

Waiting tables is not just a job, but a whole skill-enhancing experience.

Yes, smile at the customers, be polite, make more tips. But what about all the other skills that the service industry can teach you? Learn to hone in those skills that can expand your career opportunities, such as operations management, troubleshooting, dealing with difficult people (customers and coworkers alike), crisis management and working under pressure. Learn what makes people tick, what brings a smile to their face and how to keep them coming back for more.

Not only will you increase your current earnings with bigger tips, but those skills come in handy wherever you decide to move in your career. And above all, be patient! Attitude does nothing for you in this industry.

6. Master the Art of Being Good at Your Job

During my university years, my roommate worked for a very well-known restaurant franchise as a server. I watched her stack plates on her arm for serving and stack the same plates to clear the table. After more than a few broken items and burn marks from hot plates, she started being better, faster, more efficient, more comfortable with it.

So, once again, practice pays off, whether it be hot plates, a tray full of drinks or learning the ropes of bartending and flaring (make sure you use training bottles for that if you’re just starting out!).

On a side note, she went on to become the regional manager of the chain with over 30 restaurants under her wing. Who said there are no growth opportunities in the industry?

7. Enjoy the Perks

The long hours, the rush shift, the opening and closing process, and the prep work is all that people see in the service industry. However, as in any job, there’s a number of perks that seem to go unnoticed.

For example, you’re surrounded by delicious food and drinks, with most establishments offering meals to their staff while on shift, as the barista makes delicious practice drinks and the chef tries out new recipes.

Eat, drink and be merry, and pick up a few culinary tips and tricks in the process!

8. Tweak Your Schedule

Working hours in the service industry vary from very early mornings to late night closings. This is not indicative that you’ve got to give up on other activities you may enjoy, though.

Whether you’re a full-time server, a college student working your way through school or a part-timer trying to supplement your primary income, there’s always a way to include a life outside of work. For example, run your errands in the morning if you work afternoon shifts, go to the gym before work rather than after, make plans with friends and family at mutually convenient times, and take full advantage of your days off.

While it may not be a 9-5 job, it offers flexibility and opportunity once you learn to embrace its nature.

9. Learn When to Take the Lead and When to Follow

As in every job, it’s important to know when you need to take the lead and when to follow instructions and people – and this is particularly true in the service industry.

Don’t overstep the boundaries of your role, learn to diffuse difficult situations (those soft skills we talked about) and report to the management for further action or instructions.

On the other hand, learn to take the lead when the opportunity presents itself, offering to help in areas where there’s a gap (like training new staff, helping prepare the schedule or even creating employee manuals).

10. Exercise Your Social Skills

Networking and socialising can be very tricky in the service industry. Too much and you make yourself vulnerable; too little and you may lose out on exciting opportunities.

Once you have a clear vision of why you’re there – be it working your way through your education, supplementing your primary income or doing it for the long run, making connections is not only crucial but sometimes essential in achieving your goals.

Spot your regulars; remember how they take their coffee or what they don’t like in their food. Personal attention will not only get you more tips and a more pleasant shift, but it also could be the key to a promotion, a raise or even the job of your dreams.

Keep a professional but friendly demeanour, smile and care – you never know who will walk through the doors and how they may impact your life.

11. Make More Tips

What makes the work worthwhile when you’re waiting tables is the tips. While many factors may affect how patrons pay gratuity to servers and how tip sharing works in each establishment, there are a few fool-proof ways to ensure you making more tips: smiling, knowing the daily specials, checking back often and being genuine are a good start.

Patrons want to enjoy good service, good food and a pleasant atmosphere, and they’re likely to tip much better if they feel taken care of. And as for those festive seasons and occasions, spread some cheer and watch your tips cheer you up.

It’s not an easy job: it often requires long hours and being on your feet throughout your shift, but it can be a most rewarding experience financially and otherwise.

The service industry is a trillion-dollar industry that aims to not only provide good food and drinks but also make the customer experience a pleasant and efficient one. And with these tips, you can help to do just that.

Are you currently working or have worked in the restaurant industry? Let us know more about your experiences and share your own tips advice with us in the comments section below.