Waiting staff

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A Miami Beach waitress in 1973.
A waitress in the Samjiyon Pegaebong hotel, North Korea.

Waiting staff, wait staff, waitstaff[1] or serving staff are those who work at a restaurant or a bar, and sometimes in private homes, attending customers—supplying them with food and drink as requested. An individual waiting tables is commonly called a server, waitperson,[2] waitress (females only), waiter (referring to males or either gender), or less commonly the 1980s American neologism waitron.[3][4][5][6] Archaic terms such as serving girl, serving wench, or serving lad are generally used only within their historical context. A server or waiting staff takes on a very important role in a restaurant which is to always be attentive and accommodating to the guests. Each waiter follows rules and guidelines that are developed by the manager. The main rule is to always stay busy. Wait staff can abide by this rule by completing many different tasks throughout his or her shift. Such as food-running, polishing dishes and silverware, helping bus tables, and restock working stations with needed supplies.

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.[7]

Many restaurants choose a specific uniform for their wait staff to wear. This creates an environment in which involvement with the wait staff in uniform can create a memorable experience for the guests. In turn creating a lasting impression, which can result in repeat customers.

Waitstaff may receive tips as a minor or major part of their earnings, with customs varying widely from country to country.[8]

Duties of waiting staff[edit]

Saganaki, lit on fire, served by a waiter in Chicago.

The duties a waiter, wait staff or server partakes in can be tedious, but are vital to the success of the restaurant. Such duties include, prepping a section before guests sit down, offering cocktails or specialty drinks, recommending food options, requesting special chef items, pre-clearing the tables, and serving food and beverages throughout the shift. Silver service staff are specially trained to serve at banquets or high-end restaurants. These servers follow specific rules and service guidelines which makes it 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 head server must insure that all staff does their duties accordingly. The functions of a head server can overlap to some degree with that of the Maître d'hôtel. Most restaurants employ busboys or busgirls, increasingly referred to as busser or server assistant to clear dirty dishes, set tables, and otherwise assist the waiting staff.[9][10][11]

Emotional labour is often required by waiting staff,[12] particularly at many high-class restaurants.


Restaurant serving positions require on the job training that would be held by an upper level server in the restaurant. The server will be trained to provide good customer service, learn food items and drinks and maintain a neat and tidy appearance. Working, in a role such as captain, in a top rated restaurant requires disciplined role-playing comparable to a theater performance.[13]

Individuals employed to handle food and beverages in the United States must obtain a food handlers card or permit.[14] Servers that do not have a permit or handlers card can not serve. The server can achieve a permit or handlers card online.

Injury Prevention[edit]

Function of the Arm[edit]

Physical Task Demands[edit]

A research study aimed to identify the types and severity of musculoskeletal disorders of serving staff in restaurants. Specific risk factors to strain and or injury of the arm include lifting and transferring large and heavy loads, reaching for items, and repetitious tasks. The researchers quantified the physical demands of the servers throughout an entire shift by recording the frequency of tray carrying and the postures of specific joints in the body. Results of this study showed that the servers would carry trays for an average of 3.4 hours during their shift and methods of carrying trays included in front of the body, on the shoulder, flat hand, or lifting and carrying with finger tips. Participants reported a 35% increase in pain in their arm, hand and wrist after their shift.[15]

Proper technique to carry trays from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,[16] state the elbow should be kept at 90-degree angle and close to the body while maintaining neutral wrist and flat hand with flat fingers to balance the tray. Improper technique of holding tray with elbow fully flexed with fingers in extension that are carrying majority of the weight can lead to pain and injury when overused.[17]

Pain and Trigger Points[edit]

Food servers may have a tendency to narrow their shoulders which causes overuse of the flexors of the arms and or fingers.[18] Because of this, strain of the elbow flexor muscles can lead to pain and injury in other parts of the body. Trigger points in a muscle can cause this type of pain for food servers specifically. Pain felt in the hand or arm can be a direct result of strain of the elbow joint. Pain associated with the brachialis may be felt at the base of the thumb, and is caused by lifting heavy objects while the elbow is bent. Biceps brachii pain will often restrict available range of motion and is felt in the anterior shoulder and lower arm. Strain of the brachioradialis can cause an aching pain that can be felt at the web of the thumb on the backside of the hand, the lateral epicondyle, and down the muscle of the inner forearm. Pain at the brachioradialis is also known as “tennis elbow” and is caused by forceful and repetitive gripping of large or wide objects and unfortunately pain will be accompanied by weak or unreliable grip.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Waitstaff." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  2. ^ "Waitperson – Definition and More from the Free Mirriam–Webster Dictionary". Dictionary and Thesaurus – Mirriam–Westbster Online. Mirriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Waitron." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, via dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  4. ^ Hall, E. J. (1993). "WAITERING/WAITRESSING:: Engendering the Work of Table Servers". Gender & Society 7 (3): 329–346. doi:10.1177/089124393007003002. ISSN 0891-2432. 
  5. ^ Allan, Keith (2007). "The pragmatics of connotation". Journal of Pragmatics 39 (6): 1047–1057. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2006.08.004. ISSN 0378-2166. 
  6. ^ Siegal, Allan M.; Connolly, William G. (1999). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Three Rivers Press. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-8129-6389-2. 
  7. ^ U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics (24 May 2006). "Occupational Employment and Wages - Waiters and Waitresses". US Department of Labor. Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  8. ^ Reg Butler; Carole French (2011). Tips on Tipping: A Global Guide to Gratuity Etiquette. Bradt Travel Guides. pp. viii–ix. ISBN 978-1-84162-210-1. 
  9. ^ (2004.) "Busboy." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, via dictionary.com. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
  10. ^ "Busgirl." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), Random House, Inc., via dictionary.com. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
  11. ^ Schmich, Mary. (24 August 2007.) "Uh, no offense, but do you still say 'busboy'?" Chicago Tribune Web Edition. Retrieved on 19 September 2007.
  12. ^ "Emotional labour: a comparison between fast food and traditional service work". International Journal of Hospitality Management (Sciencedirect.com) 19: 159–171. 2000-06-30. doi:10.1016/S0278-4319(00)00009-8. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  13. ^ Edward Frame (August 22, 2015). "Dinner and Deception". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2015. ...as captains or servers or sommeliers, our job wasn’t just serving food, it was playing a part.... 
  14. ^ Restaurant Server: Job Description, Duties and Requirements. Education Portal. educationalportal.com. Retrieved on 13 February 2015.
  15. ^ Wills, A., Davis, K., and Kotowski, S. (2013). Quantification of the physical demands for servers in restaurants.
  16. ^ Occupational Safety & Health Administration: U.S. Department of Labor. (2015). Youth Worker Safety in Restaurants, Serving, Strains and Sprains
  17. ^ Occupational Safety & Health Administration: U.S. Department of Labor. (2015). Youth Worker Safety in Restaurants, Serving, Strains and Sprains.
  18. ^ Dimon, T. (2011). The Body in Motion.
  19. ^ Finando, D., and Finando, S. (2005). Trigger point therapy for myofascial pain: The practice of informed touch.

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