Top tips to be a tip top waiter or waitress

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Picture this: You’re at a restaurant having dinner with friends. It’s a birthday celebration so you’ve all ordered drinks with dinner; a couple of wines (a red and a white), several beers and some spirits. Your waitress brings out a serving tray with the two wines and two beers. She serves one of the beers first. What could possibly go wrong?

A waitress’ worst nightmare. Upon setting one of beers down on the table, the tray tips catastrophically causing the glass of red wine to fall and spill over onto one of your friends. Now this may seem like a textbook scene from a movie, too outrageous to occur in real life…but this scenario was very much a reality. Luckily the friend had a great sense of humour, laughing it off. Fortunately for her, the deep purple shirt she was wearing disguised much of the wine stains, however not much could be done for her blonde hair (some of which was now a light shade of pink).

As you can imagine, the waitress was mortified. But what caused this situation? Was it inexperience? Not having the proper training? Not knowing how to serve drinks to customers properly? Did she attempt to carry more than she could comfortably manage? Or had she done this 100 times before and this time was simply not thinking?

Regardless of the answer, we have put together our top tips for waiting tables so you will never have to walk in the shoes of that ill-fated waitress.

First things first, let’s cover some tips relevant to the above story:

  • This may seem like common sense, but when using a serving tray for drinks, first serve the top heavy drinks that are likely to spill, such as wine and champagne.
  • Don’t attempt to carry more than you can handle. Of course this is a fast-paced job that often calls for speed and an extra trip to the bar or kitchen is not something you have time to make. However, what will cost you more time is cleaning up a spilled drink or meal, not to mention the time taken to remake the meal or beverage.
  • Take your time while serving food and drink. Especially if you’re new to the job, you might feel pressured to pick up the pace, but it’s far better to take your time than to rush and make a mistake.

Efficiency and time management

We have already covered how rushing through your work can end in disaster, but here are some tips to help you save time by working more efficiently.

  • If you’re on your way to the kitchen to collect a meal, take empty dishes from any tables you pass. If you do this every time, you will hardly ever have to make a separate trip to the kitchen just to take back empty plates.
  • Write it down. A lot of us are guilty of thinking ‘I’ll remember to do that’ and then never giving it a second thought. So unless you are an experienced waiter, write it down! Write down orders immediately and make a note if you need to do something in the next five or so minutes.
  • Keep track of how long it has been since you checked each table. An ignored customer is not a happy customer. Plan to visit each table after they have finished a meal to ask how everything was.
  • Check food before bringing it to the customer, especially if they have a special request. If the order is incorrect, you can save everyone a lot of time and effort by catching it before it reaches the customer.

Knowledge and upselling

Knowing the menu is the mark of a great waiter or waitress. Being familiar with the menu will help you avoid mistakes while taking orders as well as being able to answer any questions your customers may have. This includes being aware of the ingredients of each meal so you can ensure that any special dietary requirements are fulfilled. You should also ensure that you familiarise yourself with the daily specials before the start of your shift.

Knowing your menu also helps with upselling. Offer a drink, a starter, or even a side that would complement the meal your customer has ordered. Remember to be helpful without being pushy – always present the option politely and never push the customer to purchase.

Appearance and attitude

Working in customer service means you must always look clean and presentable. The way you look will help form a customer’s first impression of you as well as your business. Ensure your clothing is tidy, ironed and free of stains, and also keep your nails clean. Nobody wants someone looking dirty and dishevelled handling their food!

Now this is an important one that we are sure you don’t want to learn the hard way…wear comfortable closed in shoes. This cannot be stressed enough. You are working in a job where you will be constantly on your feet so this is absolutely critical.

Be friendly and helpful to your customers. Even just greeting your customers with a smile will give them a great first impression. Customers just want to be acknowledged. The attitude of a server can make or break a customer’s dining experience. A happy waiter or waitress can often make all the difference.

If you are ready to launch your career in the hospitality industry or you want to progress, there are numerous skills and knowledge that can help you get your ideal job. Why not complete a Certificate III in Hospitality to give you the best start in the industry? Or for something a little more advanced, how about a Diploma of Hospitality? If you would like to discuss your options, do not hesitate to email us at If you’re a venue looking for a customer service training program or day contact us and we can assist you in getting your staff prepared and have your customers coming back time and time again.