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How to Be a Great Waitress

Four Methods:Working Effectively and EfficientlyHandling Specific SituationsInteracting With Customers for Better TipsLearning at a New Job

Working as a waitress or waiter can be a whirlwind, whether you're an experienced staff member or you've just entered the industry. Take some time to read this article and reflect on best waitstaff practices when you're not in the middle of a busy work shift. Your customers' smiles, employer's satisfaction, and tip jar will all expand if you work on improving your service.

Method 1
Working Effectively and Efficiently

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    Always look presentable. If you wear a uniform, make sure to keep it in excellent condition - ironed, stain-free and neat. If there is no uniform, wear well kept, slightly formal clothing. This gives the customers a better first impression and will keep your boss happy. Check your appearance periodically to see if you look disheveled or have spilled something on yourself without noticing.
    • Keep your nails clean and tidily cut.
    • Wear nice looking shoes, not tennis shoes, and keep them tightly tied. Never wear sandals.
    • Refrain from wearing perfume or cologne as some guests may have allergies to these scents. Similarly, try not to smoke before work or during your break, as it can leave an obnoxious smell.
    • Keep jewelry and makeup subtle and unobtrusive.
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    Know the menu thoroughly. Being familiar with every item on the menu will save you a lot of time and trouble when taking orders. Study the menu on your own time if necessary to avoid mistakes and slow orders.
    • Become familiar with every option for every order. If a customer orders a sandwich, you should know which breads are available, which sides come with the sandwich, and how to phrase these questions clearly.
    • Know which dishes contain meat, dairy, and common allergens, such as peanuts. Be ready to suggest similar alternatives for customers who cannot eat those ingredients.
    • Familiarize yourself with the daily specials before each work shift.
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    Suggest additional purchases. Politely ask whether the customer would like a drink, a side, or an upgrade to their order. Management will love you for this and your tips will increase as your customers purchase more.
    • Know which liquors are expensive and high quality. Suggest their use when a customer requests a mixed drink.
    • Always ask if the table would like an appetizer.
    • Never be pushy or deceptive. Present the option to the customer politely, and don't try to pass off an upgrade as though it were free.
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    Multitask. You'll have a much easier shift if you can accomplish three tasks in one trip to the kitchen and back. Take empty dishes from tables whenever you're on your way to the kitchen. Fill up a tray when several tables want condiments, drinks, or similar items instead of carrying them out one by one.[1]
    • Unless you are an experienced waitress who can confidently remember every task, write your orders down immediately and make additional notes if you need to remember to do something in five or ten minutes.
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    Manage your time well. Keep track of how long its been since you checked on each table, and become familiar with how long each meal takes to cook. Plan to visit each table after they've finished each course. Move briskly without running and try to maintain a steady pace to keep everything running smoothly.[2]
    • Pass on your knowledge of waiting times to the customer. If someone orders a well done steak, let them know it will take longer. If a soup just ran out and the cook needs to make a new one, let the customer know how long that will take and suggest an alternative.
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    Check the food before bringing it to the customer. Especially when there are special requests involved, you can save everyone a lot of headache by making sure the order is correct before bringing it to the table.
    • If an order has been messed up, let the kitchen and the customers know. Apologize for the additional delay and, if allowed in your restaurant, try to give them a discounted meal or something extra to make up for it.
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    Anticipate common requests. Most customers want ketchup with their burger. Kids frequently drop their silverware. Once you get to know which requests are popular with which meals and customers, bring them to the table in advance. This saves both you and the customers time and makes them feel taken care of.
    • Extra silverware, condiment packets, and napkins can be kept in your apron pocket if you have one.
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    Don't let a bad tip ruin your shift. Never complain to a table about a bad tip, no matter how great your service was. Not only could you get yourself fired but it sets you up as the complaining type and creates bad relations with the other waiting staff.
    • Some people never tip appropriately regardless of service. Others may not be able to afford the tip, or may be visiting from a country where tipping is not common practice.
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    Never sit around doing nothing. If you have no customers to take care of, clean! There's always work to be done in a restaurant. Show your employer that you're able to take initiative and work hard.
    • If your current tables do not require attention, look at the other customers as well. Some of them may be trying to flag down a waitress for a small request that you can fill without stepping on the toes of their waitstaff.

Method 2
Handling Specific Situations

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    Pay attention to the parents when the kids are ordering. A kid might try to order an unhealthy meal, caffeinated beverage, or other item parents might disapprove of. Give the parent a chance to object before you repeat the order.
    • If the parents aren't paying attention, repeat the order back loudly and clearly, addressing the whole table. This gives them another chance to notice.
    • In front of young kids, after a parent has objected, you may be able to smooth the argument away by saying "Sorry, we're all out of soda, can I get you something else?"
    • If you personally disapprove of someone's choice, don't say anything. This is up for the parents to decide, unless the order clearly violates the law, such as serving a child alcohol.
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    Don't set dangerous objects near children. If you are serving hot dishes, putting down metal utensils, or giving the table some other potentially dangerous item, do so near the parents and address them with a "Here you are, sir/ma'am" if you need to get their attention.
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    Make the dining experience as fast as possible for parents with babies. Babies and young toddlers typically have a short attention span, and if the meal drags on, the parents and the whole restaurant could suffer as well. Check in more frequently on them than on other tables, and multitask as much as possible to speed up the process.
    • Ask if you can take the drink and meal orders together instead of in two visits.
    • Suggest a more quickly prepared alternative if one of the customers orders a dish that will take extra long.
    • This is the rare situation in which you should bring the check when you approach to clear the final dishes. You should still ask if the customers are finished first.
    • Do not make the customers feel like you're trying to throw them out. Many tired and busy parents will appreciate your prompt service, but if they are getting annoyed, back off and let them continue the meal at their own pace.
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    Stay neutral in arguments over who will pay. If multiple customers at one table request to pay, try to place the check in the center of the table instead of near one of them. Just smile and say you'll be back to collect it if they try to involve you in the argument.
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    Understand how to serve tea and coffee. People get very serious about their tea and coffee, and it pays to know how to serve it in a way that will make most people happy. Disregard this advice when serving regulars if you know they like their drink a certain way (which you should pay attention to).
    • Tea drinkers are often finicky about preparation. Always be sure you know which variety of tea they ordered, and provide plenty of milk, lemon wedges, and sugar on the side so they can customize their drink.
    • Do not refill tea or coffee without asking the customer. You may be changing their carefully prepared beverage.
    • Don't place the spoon in the tea or coffee before taking it to the customer. This lowers the temperature of the drink, which some customers don't appreciate.
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    Ask diners if they would like water when they order caffeine or alcohol. This is more relevant for people eating a meal than for people at the bar. Many people like to drink water in order to counteract the dehydrating or mood-changing effects of these substances.
    • You may not be able to follow this rule in regions outside the United States, where serving water is less common or comes with a price tag.
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    Never put an object from the floor back on the table. Even if it is just a paper advertisement or a salt shaker, you should replace it with a new one from the kitchen. Your customers do not want to have "floor germs" on their table.
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    Practice specialized tasks on your own time. Most commonly, this involves opening a bottle of wine. Many serving tasks you find difficult can easily be practiced when you "serve" yourself dinner, so they don't take much extra time to learn.
    • Most waiters who are supposed to open wine are expected to do so in front of the customers who ordered it. Practice this task to make it seem smooth and natural.
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    Choose appropriate music and vary the selection. If you have control over the music selection, keep it at a relatively low volume and choose something appropriate to the mood. Never play a full album; mix it up so a customer who doesn't like that artist has another chance to hear something they do enjoy.
    • Customers at a cafe, or eating during the morning and early afternoon, usually enjoy calming, unobtrusive music. Classical music is a good choice.
    • Customers eating in the evening may enjoy more energetic music, but this varies greatly depending on the atmosphere of the establishment. Most still want the volume low so they can talk to their friends. In any case, waitstaff rarely make music decisions for the busiest or most formal times of day.

Method 3
Interacting With Customers for Better Tips

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    Introduce yourself. Make eye contact with the customers after they are seated and promptly introduce yourself. This starts the conversation out on the right foot, leading to better tips on average, and gives them a polite way to get your attention later.[3]
    • Multitask by introducing yourself as you pass out the menus and check that every customer has enough silverware and napkins.
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    Stay polite, friendly and helpful, even to angry customers. When speaking to customers, always use respectful terms of address such as sir, ma'am, and miss. Act friendly and positive, and make your customers feel as comfortable as possible.
    • Ask the customer whether they have dined at your restaurant before -- that way if they are new, first-time customers you can welcome them and offer your help with the menu.
    • Appear friendly, but do not get involved in the customer's conversation unless asked. Do your job, then leave the customer to eat or talk in relative privacy.
    • Always remember to smile. No matter how irritating customers or co-workers can be, just put on a pleasant face and suck it up -- this will save you a lot of drama!
    • Don't talk or gossip about customers even when you think they can't hear you. Remain polite and respectful when discussing them in case they are in earshot.
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    Respect the customer's personal space. Never sit down at the table to take an order. Don't shake hands or hug unless you are personal friends with the customer, or you are shaking hands to greet them as per restaurant policy. Other physical interactions depend on the atmosphere of the place you work, and whether you are a man or woman.
    • Studies of U.S. restaurants show that women who touch a customer lightly on the shoulder, hand, or arm receive better tips from that customer on average.[4] This should only be done when the customer appears relaxed and comfortable, and never if the customer is on a date with a woman. Be friendly rather than flirtatious.
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    Personally advise the customer about their order. If a customer asks for advice, be prepared to answer whatever questions they have or recommend your favorite dish in each category. If a customer orders a dish that gets a lot of complaints, try to recommend another option.
    • Customers like it when you give them the "inside scoop", but you shouldn't go so far as to insult a dish unless you work in an unusually relaxed environment. Instead, steer them away from a bad dish by recommending a similar, better option as "the chef's specialty" or "my personal favorite".
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    Accommodate any reasonable request your customers make. Many people have serious reasons to avoid certain ingredients, including potentially fatal allergies. If you aren't familiar with every dish on the menu (which you should be), do your best to find out for them how it is prepared.
    • Never lie to a customer and give them an ingredient they requested to have removed. If you can't accommodate the request, simply say so and suggest a similar alternative that the customer can eat.
    • Don't question your customers. Keep in mind there are many reasons for menu change requests, such as religious, vegetarian/vegan and cultural dietary restrictions. If the request can be accommodated, don't ask why they made it!
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    Repeat the order back to your customers. Studies of U.S. establishments show that waitstaff who repeat the order to the customers receive more tips.[5] However big or small that effect might be, it also gives the customer a chance to correct any mistakes or change their mind.
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    Check on your customers regularly and give them updates. If you just got a job as a waiter or waitress, it may take some time to get a feel for how frequently you should check on each table. At least check in whenever they are finishing a course or if they look bored or irritated while waiting for their food.
    • Give them a specific time estimate if they ask how long the food will take, whenever possible.
    • Stop by to refill your customers' glass whenever it gets low, or to ask if they'd like to purchase another for non-refillable drinks.
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    Clear old dishes promptly but not without talking to the customer. Always ask whether the customer is finished before removing dishes with food on them. If there is a lot of food left, ask whether the food was all right.
    • Many restaurants allow their waitstaff to give unsatisfied customers something extra to make up for bad experiences. This could save your tip.
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    Befriend your regulars. Be friendly to people you would not normally talk to. When someone sits in your section more than once, take the time to get to know them. You don't need to become fast friends, but you will probably end up getting to like at least some of them.
    • Remember their names and favorite drinks, where they work etc. Make them feel like they are going to a restaurant to visit a friend: you!
    • Try to write down the appearance and preferences of anyone who visits more than once. The customer will be impressed if you know how they like their steak on the third visit.
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    Don't assume the customer wants the check, but don't leave them waiting either. Ask if there is anything more you can get for them, and that will open the opportunity for them to ask for dessert, a take-out item/bag, or the check.
    • If they state they need nothing else, then ask if they are ready for the check.
    • If they have to ask you, it generally means they are in a hurry, or you have waited an excessive amount of time since you last checked on the table.
    • Never ask the customer if they need change. Say "I will be right back with your change," then come back and leave the full amount on the table.

Method 4
Learning at a New Job

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    Learn the menu in advance. When you interview, be proactive and ask for a menu to take with you. Study it on your own to become familiar with the food available. Chain restaurants have great training programs that guide you through the menu and kitchen; bars and smaller places expect you to learn on your own.
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    Show up to work early. Punctuality is important for any job, especially one you've just started. Restaurants are particularly fast-paced during peak hours, however, and you'll make a good impression if you're ready to work on the dot or even a little in advance.[6]
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    Listen to experienced employees carefully. Even if you have worked as a waitress before, you should pay attention to the details of your new job. Each restaurant does things slightly differently, and paying attention during training will let you do your job more smoothly.[7] It also never hurts to be respectful to your boss and coworkers, of course, rather than blowing them off with phrases such as "I know this already."
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    Keep up with the pace. If you've never worked in a busy restaurant before, you could be surprised by how fast-paced and exhausting the work is. Do your best to keep up to the pace of the other waitstaff. As you grow more accustomed to the job, you'll have a somewhat easier time. At the beginning, you may need to push yourself.[8]
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    Perform unpleasant tasks without complaining. You'll start at the bottom of the totem pole, but you won't work your way up by complaining. Clean tables and work unpleasant hours if you are asked to, and remember that you'll have more choice once you're more established.[9]
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    Take criticisms in stride. Waiting tables can feel a little cutthroat, as some waitstaff will blame you personally if they think you contributed to a bad customer experience (and therefore a bad tip).[10] Know that you'll receive less criticism once you learn the ropes, and try to smile and not let it get to you.
    • This is definitely not true of every restaurant. Don't be scared off from applying to a waiting job before you know the atmosphere of the establishment.
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    Volunteer for extra shifts. Especially in the beginning, you want management and coworkers to know you are reliable. Once you know you can handle an extra shift, volunteer to cover a gap in the schedule so you stand out to your new boss.
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    Ask questions when you don't know how to do something. Show an interest in learning specific skills or restaurant practices. Always ask how to do something if you are afraid of making a mistake. People know you're new, and you should be able to find at least one person who appreciates when you ask questions.
    • This does not mean you should question your job. "What time do I get off?" or "Do I have to do this?" are common phrases that will irritate your coworkers and employer.


  • Leave drama, bad moods and personal issues at the door.
  • Just relax, people are there to enjoy themselves. You should too.
  • Try not to get involved in work politics. Avoid trash talking your boss or other employees to your colleagues. In the end, they will find out!
  • Try to befriend fellow colleagues - they may be able to help you if they're friendlier with you!
  • Communicate well with other staff to make the experience more pleasurable and easier.
  • Always exhibit respect to all your customers.
  • Never ask the customer for a bigger tip.
  • Ring in your appetizers first. Then enter the drinks and entrees. Your appetizers will be hot and out minutes after you serve them their drinks.
  • Don't pressure costumers onto buying things they don't want, they will get irritated if you do so.


  • Never brag about your tips in front of other waiting staff.
  • Never count your tips in front of the customers.
  • Do not reach over one customer to serve another. If the setting is informal and you have no other choice, at least say "excuse my reach".

Article Info

Categories: Hospitality