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Education for Restaurant Servers: Essential Training and Skills for a Successful Career

February 25, 2023 · 13 min read

"A server's smile is the universal language of hospitality." - Unknown

PHOTO: https://unsplash.com/@brookecagle

Anyone who is legally allowed to work and has the necessary skills and abilities can become a restaurant server. There are no specific educational requirements to become a restaurant server. However, most restaurants prefer to hire someone who has a high school diploma or equivalent. This is because servers should be able to read and write well, have basic math skills, and be able to communicate effectively with customers and coworkers.

In addition to these basic requirements, servers should also have a friendly and outgoing personality, as well as the ability to remain calm under pressure. They should also be able to work well in a team, as restaurant service requires a coordinated effort between servers, kitchen staff, and management.

Servers should also be physically capable of carrying heavy trays of food and drink, standing for long periods of time, and moving quickly and efficiently through a busy restaurant environment.

While anyone can become a restaurant server, it is important to remember that it is a demanding job that requires hard work, attention to detail, and excellent customer service skills. Servers must be able to multitask, work under pressure, and maintain a positive attitude even when dealing with difficult customers or challenging situations.

Ultimately, the most important qualifications for a restaurant server are strong communication skills, a friendly and outgoing personality, the ability to multitask and work well under pressure, and a commitment to providing excellent customer service.


Interesting Facts

Restaurant servers often rely on tips to supplement their income, and it is customary to leave a tip of 15-20% of the total bill in the US. In some countries, such as Japan, tipping is not customary and can even be considered rude. In these countries, servers are paid a higher wage and do not rely on tips for income.

Main steps

Becoming a restaurant server typically requires no formal education or training, although some previous experience in the food service industry can be helpful. Here are the steps you can take to become a restaurant server:

  1. Meet the basic requirements: To be a restaurant server, you need to be at least 18 years old (or 21, depending on state and local laws) and have the legal right to work in the United States. You should also have good communication skills, a friendly personality, and the ability to work well under pressure.
  2. Obtain any required certifications: Some states and localities require food handlers or alcohol server certifications. Check with your state and local health departments or alcohol control boards to find out if you need any of these certifications.
  3. Look for job openings: You can find restaurant server job openings on various job boards or classified ads. You can also visit restaurants in your area and ask if they are hiring.
  4. Prepare your resume: Even if you don't have previous experience as a server, you can highlight any customer service experience you have. Make sure your resume is tailored to the restaurant industry and emphasizes your people skills.
  5. Apply for jobs and attend interviews: Once you've found job openings that interest you, submit your application and wait for a response. If you're selected for an interview, be sure to dress professionally, arrive on time, and be prepared to answer questions about your availability and experience.
  6. Complete any necessary training: If you're hired as a server, you'll likely need to complete some training before you can begin working. This may include learning the restaurant's menu, computer system, and customer service standards.
  7. Start your new job: Once you've completed any required training, you're ready to start working as a restaurant server. Be sure to show up on time, dress professionally, and always provide excellent customer service to ensure a successful career as a restaurant server.

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Areas of knowledge

As a restaurant server, you will need to have a range of knowledge and skills to be successful in your role. Some of the key areas of knowledge required for a career as a restaurant server include

  1. Menu knowledge: As a server, you will need to be familiar with the menu and the ingredients of each dish. This includes knowledge of any dietary restrictions or allergens that may be present in the dishes.
  2. Restaurant policies and procedures: You will need to have a good understanding of the policies and procedures of the restaurant you are working for, including things like reservation procedures, dress code requirements, and billing procedures.
  3. Food and beverage pairings: It can be helpful to have knowledge of the different types of wine, beer, and spirits, as well as which ones pair well with certain dishes.
  4. Service techniques: As a server, you will need to have good communication skills and be able to provide excellent customer service. This includes techniques for taking orders, making recommendations, and resolving customer complaints.
  5. Payment processing: You will need to have knowledge of how to process payments, including using point-of-sale systems, handling cash, and making change.
  6. Health and safety regulations: You will need to have a basic understanding of health and safety regulations, including food safety regulations and proper sanitation procedures.

Overall, a career as a restaurant server requires a diverse set of skills and knowledge. By having a good understanding of menu items, restaurant policies and procedures, service techniques, payment processing, and health and safety regulations, you can provide excellent customer service and be successful in this role.

Last Trends in Restaurant Business

Increased focus on customer service: With more consumers using online platforms to order food for delivery, restaurants are placing a greater emphasis on providing a high level of customer service to attract diners to their physical locations. This has resulted in an increase in demand for servers who can provide personalized service, upsell menu items, and create a welcoming atmosphere.

Special training

In addition to a high school diploma or equivalent, it can be helpful to take courses or obtain training in customer service, hospitality, or food service. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer programs that can provide training in these areas. 

There are a variety of educational courses available for individuals interested in becoming a restaurant server or improving their skills in the food service industry. Some examples of courses include

  1. Food safety and hygiene: These courses cover the basics of food safety and hygiene practices in a restaurant, including safe food handling, storage, and preparation.
  2. Wine and beverage service: These courses teach servers about wine and other beverage selections, including how to pair them with different types of food.
  3. Customer service: These courses focus on developing communication and interpersonal skills to provide excellent customer service to restaurant patrons.
  4. Menu knowledge: These courses help servers understand the ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavors of different menu items so that they can provide better recommendations and answer questions from customers.
  5. Upselling techniques: These courses teach servers how to promote menu items and increase sales through effective upselling techniques.
  6. Language training: For servers who work in restaurants with international cuisine, language training courses can help them communicate effectively with customers who may speak a different language.

These courses can be offered through community colleges, vocational schools, or specialized training programs in the food service industry.

While a formal education is not required to become a restaurant server, many employers provide on-the-job training to help new servers develop the skills they need to be successful in their roles. This training typically covers topics such as menu knowledge, customer service, order taking, serving techniques, payment processing, and communication skills.

In addition, many states require servers to complete a training program on responsible alcohol service in order to obtain a liquor license. These programs, which are often referred to as "TIPS" or "responsible vendor" training, teach servers how to identify and respond to signs of intoxication, how to refuse service to customers who are visibly intoxicated, and how to prevent drunk driving.

Overall, while a specific type of training or education may not be required to become a restaurant server, it is important to be open to learning and willing to receive guidance from experienced colleagues and managers in order to excel in this role.


Amazing Careers

Amy Adams, the award-winning actress, worked as a restaurant server before her breakthrough role in the movie Junebug. She worked at a restaurant called "Hooters" in her hometown of Castle Rock, Colorado, where she was responsible for taking orders, serving food, and interacting with customers. Adams has spoken about her experience as a server in several interviews, describing it as a challenging job that required her to develop her multitasking and communication skills. However, she has also credited her time as a server with giving her the confidence to pursue a career in acting. Today, Adams is known for her critically acclaimed performances in movies such as Enchanted, Arrival, and American Hustle, but her early experiences in the food service industry remain an important part of her journey to success.

The time frame of the education process

The time it takes to become a restaurant server can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the specific training and education required by the employer or state, and how quickly you are able to gain the necessary skills and experience.

In general, becoming a restaurant server may not require a significant amount of formal education or training, although some employers may prefer candidates with prior experience or relevant certifications.

If you are starting from scratch, you may be able to find employment as a server relatively quickly, and can expect to receive on-the-job training as you learn the ins and outs of the role. In some cases, you may be required to complete a short training program before starting your job.

Overall, the amount of time it takes to become a restaurant server can vary widely depending on individual circumstances, but with dedication and hard work, it is possible to quickly acquire the necessary skills and experience to succeed in this role.

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Professional Associations

There are several professional associations for individuals working in the food service industry, including restaurant servers. One of the largest and most well-known organizations is the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which provides resources, training, and advocacy for individuals and businesses in the food service industry. They offer a variety of educational and networking opportunities, as well as certification programs for restaurant servers and other food service professionals. In addition, there are also state and local associations that offer support and resources for individuals working in the food service industry.


Interesting Facts

Being a restaurant server can lead to advancement opportunities: While many servers start in entry-level positions, there are opportunities for advancement, such as becoming a lead server or a restaurant manager. Additionally, working as a server can provide valuable experience and skills that can be applied in other industries, such as customer service and sales.

Licenses and Certifications

In general, there are no specific licensing or certification requirements to become a restaurant server. However, some states or cities may have their own regulations or requirements for food handlers or servers. Some states, such as California and Illinois, require restaurant servers to obtain a food handler's card, which involves taking a food safety course and passing a test. 

food handler's card, also known as a food handler's permit, is a certificate issued to food service workers who have completed a food safety training course. The card certifies that the holder has completed training in safe food handling, preparation, and storage, and is knowledgeable about foodborne illnesses, food allergies, and other food safety issues. The purpose of the card is to help prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses by ensuring that food service workers understand how to handle food safely and hygienically. In some states and localities, food handler's cards are required by law for all food service workers.

Other states may have similar requirements, so it is important to check with local health departments or regulatory agencies to determine the specific requirements in a particular location.

Additionally, some restaurants or employers may require their servers to complete a company-specific training program or obtain certification in areas such as responsible alcohol service.

Certification in responsible alcohol service is a program that teaches individuals how to serve and sell alcoholic beverages in a responsible and legal manner. The program is designed to ensure that alcohol is served safely and responsibly and to help prevent alcohol-related problems such as underage drinking, drunk driving, and overconsumption of alcohol.

The program covers a range of topics, including state and federal laws related to the sale and service of alcohol, how to check IDs to verify that customers are of legal drinking age, how to recognize and deal with intoxicated customers, and techniques for limiting customers' alcohol consumption. The program typically includes a final exam that participants must pass in order to earn their certification.

Certification in responsible alcohol service is often required by law in order to work in establishments that serve or sell alcohol, such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. The specific requirements for certification vary by state and by the establishment, but the training is generally available through a variety of online and in-person courses offered by certified training providers.

Last Trends in Restaurant Business

Integration with technology: Many restaurants are integrating technology into their operations, including digital menus and ordering systems, mobile payments, and customer loyalty programs. This has resulted in a demand for servers who are comfortable using these technologies and can troubleshoot issues that may arise.

Key takeaways for a restaurant server:
  • Restaurant servers should have a solid understanding of menu items, including ingredients, preparation methods, and any potential allergens. This knowledge is essential for providing accurate information to customers and ensuring their safety.
  • Training in customer service and communication skills is critical for restaurant servers. Servers should be able to interact with customers professionally and effectively, anticipate their needs, and handle any issues or complaints that may arise.
  • Servers should have a basic understanding of food and beverage pairings, as well as wine and beer knowledge. This can help them make recommendations to customers and enhance their overall dining experience.
  • Knowledge of restaurant operations, including point-of-sale systems, food safety and sanitation protocols, and inventory management, can be beneficial for servers looking to advance in their careers or take on additional responsibilities.
  • Continuing education and training opportunities are available for restaurant servers, including courses in leadership, management, and specialized skills such as mixology or wine service. Servers should be open to learning and growing their skills to advance in their careers.
  • Multilingual skills can be an asset for restaurant servers, especially in establishments that serve diverse populations or international cuisine. Servers who can speak multiple languages may be able to communicate more effectively with customers and provide a more personalized dining experience.
  • In addition to formal education and training, experience in the restaurant industry is valuable for restaurant servers. On-the-job experience can help servers develop their skills and gain a deeper understanding of the industry and customer preferences.



What kind of training is provided for new restaurant servers?

New restaurant servers can expect to receive training in menu items, service protocols, and point-of-sale systems. They may also receive training in customer service and communication skills.

How can restaurant servers continue their education and training?

Restaurant servers can continue their education and training by taking courses in leadership, management, specialized skills, and industry-specific topics. They can also participate in on-the-job training and seek out mentorship opportunities.

How important is wine and beverage knowledge for a restaurant server?

Wine and beverage knowledge can be an asset for a restaurant server, as it allows them to make recommendations to customers and enhance their dining experience. However, it is not always necessary and can vary by establishment.

What are some benefits of continuing education and training for restaurant servers?

Continuing education and training can lead to career advancement opportunities, higher pay, and the development of new skills. It can also help restaurant servers stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices.

Can restaurant servers benefit from learning a second language?

Yes, restaurant servers who are fluent in multiple languages can provide more personalized service to customers, especially in establishments that serve diverse populations or international cuisine. Knowing a second language can also be beneficial for career advancement opportunities.

by Olena Sobolieva

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