What Makes a Great Restaurant Server?

Your servers have some of the most important responsibilities in your operation. They’re the face of your company, the ones who actually interact with customers; they’re the go-between for the restaurant and its profits. For servers, day-to-day responsibilities change depending on the crowd, the day of the week, and all those other mercurial factors that go into any customer service job. If you add some stability to your server’s lives and make their jobs easier, then your operations will run more smoothly as a result.

The front-of-house staff consists of your server, bartenders, and host. They work together to form a strong team that can handle anything that comes their way. As the face of the restaurant, your servers, in particular, need to have a good handle on some basic responsibilities that they’ll find at any restaurant job, no matter where they go:

  • Be on time.
  • Mentally prepare. Server shifts can get long and difficult. It’s good to go in with a clear head and positive attitude, to be ready for the day.
  • Get a head start. The earlier you finish setting up for the day, the more smoothly things will go during your shift, and everybody else’s too. Roll napkins, polish silverware, and complete any other tasks necessary for the restaurant to open.
  • Cut garnishes. Not only is the bartender’s job easier when there are freshly prepared lemon and limes ready to go, but they’re good to offer customers for their water too.
  • Set tables and set up for the day.
  • Know your technology. Servers need to be able to operate the Point of Sale system and all other devices in the restaurant. The guest experience is intrinsically tied to smooth technology use. The right Point of Sale can track tables, split bills and improve order accuracy. Servers need to understand how to operate them so they don’t have to troubleshoot during a shift.
  • Payment processing. Whether cash or credit, at the table or the Point of Sale terminal, transactions should be quick and easy. Knowing your machines will ensure that this part of the experience doesn’t bungle the rest of the meal.
  • Professionalism. As the go-between for the restaurant and the public, servers should act appropriately and look presentable, always in a clean uniform.
  • Greet guests. This is the host’s job, but all the waitstaff should be genial and greet customers with a smile when they come in.
  • Memorize the menu. It’s a server’s job to sell, so you should know the menu inside and out. This is especially true for menus that change seasonally, but regardless you need to be able to list all the specials and answer guests’ questions with ease.
  • Take orders and sell food. This is pretty basic: The job is all about submitting orders to the kitchen, but upselling is just as important. Offer sides and make recommendations, as customization like this not only strengthens customer relations but increases the average check size, too.
  • Card guests. Any misunderstandings about a customers’ age or the legal drinking age could lead to the restaurant losing its liquor licenses.
  • Top the table off. Give water refills and offer more drinks as soon as a glass is empty. Stay on top of the customers. Also refill napkins and condiments, as this task keeps servers busy during slower hours and helps the restaurant run more smoothly when it’s busy.
  • Teamwork makes the dream work. Servers need to work together to create a smooth guest experience.
  • Communication. Part of teamwork is clear communication between FOH staff, with the kitchen and with guests, too. Let customers know if food is delayed or coming out soon, and check in regularly throughout the meal to make sure the food tastes good, looks good, and is meeting all expectations. Misunderstandings lead to dishes getting sent back and comped meals which hurts the bottom line.
  • Offer end-of-meal extras. A lot of people like to finish off a good meal with dessert, coffee or a second helping to take home.
  • Make the most of the celebrations. Milestones are commonly celebrated with a good night out to eat. Servers are critical to the experience so find the right positive attitude to talk up those birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations and make them nights to remember.
  • Promptly clear away dirty dishes.
  • Be flexible. In the foodservice industry, timing is rarely exact. Servers are typically expected to accept shifts getting cut short or running long, so adaptation is key.
  • Think on your feet. With so many people milling around, servers need to be able to balance plates, run drinks and manage multiple tables without getting stressed out. Restaurants are busy; comfortable shoes help.
  • Close up shop. The job isn’t over until it’s over. Tidy the dining area, clean the coffee machines, polish the cutlery, and put away any chairs or furniture so the opening crew gets a fresh start in the morning.

Being part of a front-of-house team means taking on these responsibilities, as well as others that may pop up unexpectedly throughout a shift. The key to finding the workers who are a good fit is to establish clear own rules and expectations, then be open and honest during the interview process. People don’t like surprises so straight-shooting from the start will improve overall employee retention.

Continue to have conversations about employee expectations, making that a part of the daily routine. Incorporate reminders into staff meetings and routinely touch base about servers’ needs too, so that everyone stays on the same page and can work together to find a solution when an alternative is needed. Servers make a restaurant a seamless operation with an incredible guest experience, and these are good places to hone the skills necessary to be the best you can be at the job.

Editor's Picks