Waiting staff, wait staff, or waitstaff are those who work at a restaurant or a bar attending customers—supplying them with food and drink as requested. Traditionally, a male waiting tables is called a "waiter" and a female a "waitress" with the gender-neutral version being a "server". Other gender-neutral versions include using "waiter" indiscriminately for males and females, "waitperson", or the little-used Americanism "waitron", which was coined in the 1980s.
Waiting on tables is (along with nursing and teaching) part of the service sector, and among the most common occupations in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, as of May 2008, there were over 2.2 million persons employed as servers in the U.S.
In recent times there has been a trend towards automation in the service of food and drink waiting, with the advent of technologies such as robotics to take on the waiting roles that once required human staff.
Duties of waiting staff
The duties of waiting staff include preparing tables for a meal, taking customers' orders, serving drinks and food, and cleaning up before, after and during servings in a restaurant. Silver service staff are specially trained to serve at banquets or high-end restaurants. They follow specific rules of service and it is a skilled job. They generally wear black and white with a long, white apron (extending from the waist to ankle).
The head server is in charge of the waiting staff, and is also frequently responsible for assigning seating. The functions of a head server can overlap to some degree with that of the Maître d'hôtel. Some restaurants employ busboys or busgirls, increasingly referred to as bussers, to clear dirty dishes, set tables, and otherwise assist the waiting staff.
In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, many other Western countries and parts of the Middle East, it is customary for customers to pay a tip to a server after a meal, with a possible range from 10% to 25% depending on the level and quality of service. In some situations, a tip or "service charge" will be included on the restaurant bill in the U.S. This charge is usually applied to parties of six or more. Also called a gratuity, a "service charge" will be automatically applied for situations where the restaurant management imposes this to ensure that the servers working in such situations earn their usual tip income. Such service charges are usually around 18%; an additional voluntary tip is sometimes given. There is some debate in the U.S. whether a "minimum tip", usually 15% to 20%, exists as a convention, regardless of the level of service. In many U.S. states, servers rarely are paid over the minimum wage for tipped employees, which is as low as $2.13 per hour, leaving the server almost entirely dependent on tips as income. This leaves servers particularly vulnerable to the whims and cultural expectations of their customers. However, restaurants in most U.S. states are required to supplement a tipped employee's wages in order to bring their hourly wages up to the federal standard which is $7.25, if they do not make that amount in tips.
In Germany and other Western European countries, where minimum wages exist for servers and where tipping is not culturally entrenched, most tips take the form of rounding up to the nearest whole or half denomination of currency when the server is cashing a party out at their table. In the United Kingdom it is common practice to tip 10% of the cost of the meal.
By contrast, servers in Japan refuse tips because it isn't a Japanese custom.
Tipping is not customary in South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and is not factored into wages of staff; however, tips may be appreciated. This is especially the case if the customer or party has been unusually difficult or has left a mess—parents of small children, for example, may leave a small tip. In these countries, tips are often placed into a Tip Jar and pooled rather than being kept by individual servers. This money is usually then spent on things that directly benefit staff—it may be used to maintain staff facilities or to fund events such as Christmas parties, for example.
In Taiwan and Hong Kong, a 10% service fee is often added to meals in middle-to-upscale restaurants. However, this fee does not go to the waitstaff, but is simply a surcharge that is added to the price of the meal.
Where tipping is common, it may be encouraged as a social convention, but on occasion may actually be vehemently enforced by the restaurant.
- "Waitstaff." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
- "Server." WordNet 3.0. Princeton University, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
- "Waitperson." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
- "Waitron." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
- U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics (24). "Occupational Employment and Wages - Waiters and Waitresses". US Department of Labor. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
- (2004.) "Busboy." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, via dictionary.com. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
- "Busgirl." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), Random House, Inc., via dictionary.com. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
- Schmich, Mary. (24 August 2007.) "Uh, no offense, but do you still say 'busboy'?" Chicago Tribune Web Edition. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
- "U.S. Department of Labor: Minimum Wages for Tipped Employees".
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