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Many people think that waiting tables is just something to do until the job of their dreams comes along. If you are interested in food, look forward to meeting new people, and like to make them comfortable, you might consider a career in food service. You can work in a diner, swanky restaurant, hotel, or resort. You can become the host or hostess, the dining room manager, or a chef, or you can open your own restaurant.

Waiting jobs are available all over the country, in all sizes of restaurants. If you are just starting out, you might try working at a diner that serves breakfast and lunch. In these establishments, your mistakes will be forgiven as you learn the tricks of the trade. You could then graduate to serving dinners at fancier establishments. They require much more experience and knowledge of food, but the rewards—in the form of tips—are often greater.

Waiters and waitresses greet customers, take their orders, serve the beverages and food, add up the check, and clean the area to make it ready for the next group. Before and after a shift, they may also do side work—like cleaning ketchup and mustard containers, filling salt and pepper shakers, washing sugar jars, sweeping, mopping, and polishing—to get the restaurant ready to open or to close down.

Before a dinner shift, waiters and waitresses may also need to learn from the chef or restaurant manager the specials for the evening. This requires a basic understanding about how food is prepared. The waiter or waitress must also be prepared to make recommendations to customers who may not know what they want. Food service is not a job for the weak: Waiters and waitresses are on their feet most of the time they are working. They carry heavy plates, balance glasses on trays, and serve hot coffee. It is important to have both stamina and strength.

With all this work, waiters and waitresses must put on a pleasant face to the public. Food servers are the people who have direct contact with customers, and they are the ones who take the blame if the food is late or isn't prepared properly. They should have a good memory to avoid mixing up orders, to remember who has regular and who has decaffeinated coffee, and to know what the regulars want before they order. Waiters and waitresses should also know how to add up the bill without using a calculator.

Most of the training is on-the-job. Before they start, waiters and waitresses should memorize the menu and learn the abbreviations that the kitchen uses. With practice and observation, a waiter or waitress can learn to carry three or more plates, or two pots of coffee and a pitcher of water.

Waiters and waitresses may be asked for their opinions on the meals they serve, or about what goes into them. The staff should have tried everything so they can answer the questions. In establishments that have specials, the staff must memorize these dishes on a daily basis. Waiters and waitresses must multitask, as customers often request coffee, a clean spoon, or a glass of juice as a waiter or waitress passes by with an armload of orders. Those who can survive this with a smile on their face will be rewarded.

Education and Training

There are no educational requirements to be a waiter or a waitress. Some cities may have you take a food-handling test. Larger restaurants may give you a few days of training, or you may “shadow” a more established member of the waitstaff. In smaller diners, you are handed an apron and an order pad and are sent out on your own.

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