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Difference Between a Server and Waiter/Waitress

server vs waiter

If you’re planning to work or run a business in the hospitality industry, it’s important to make the Server vs. Waiter/Waitress distinction.

These two terms are often used interchangeably, creating confusion and making it harder to understand the responsibilities of workers in each of the roles.

However, their meanings aren’t entirely the same. To clear things up, let’s define both roles and take a closer look at their responsibilities.

Servers vs. Waiter/Waitress: What are the differences?

The lines between Servers and Waiters/Waitresses are a bit blurred and you’ll often hear people use these terms in different ways.

Sometimes, the only difference between them is the gender of the term. “Server” is used as a gender-neutral term for the role, while “Waiter” is paired with “Waitress”. Still, this is only the case in some U.S. states and individual establishments as these two roles aren’t entirely the same.

More commonly, they have slightly different responsibilities and are viewed as two different job positions. To better understand what each of them involves, let’s define both roles.

What is a Server?

A Server is an employee, most commonly in a restaurant, who assists customers and co-workers. The role involves more than just taking orders and delivering food and drinks to tables. It also often sees them coordinating with kitchen staff, managing reservations and processing payments.

Like everyone else in the hospitality industry, they have to be polite and ensure customers have a pleasant experience at the establishment. They typically interact with customers when they’re serving them food and drinks.

They should have detailed knowledge of the restaurant’s menu and be ready to provide additional information about the dishes. If the customer is struggling to decide when making an order, they should be able to recommend a dish based on their liking.

What is a Waiter/Waitress?

While there are different types of Waiters/Waitresses, they’re typically employed in restaurants. They have a more focused set of responsibilities compared to Servers, which include taking orders from guests, bringing them food and doing everything else to ensure customer satisfaction.

The role of a Waiter/Waitress involves offering a more personalized service and interacting with customers throughout their entire stay at the establishment. A Waiter/Waitress also addresses any specific requests customers may have and checks if they need refills or want to order again.

Like Servers, they should be knowledgeable about the restaurant’s menu and be able to help customers with their choices or recommend a dish.

Comparing Servers and Waiters/Waitresses

Many establishments using these terms in a similar way and understanding what exactly each role involves isn’t always easy. To further clarify the Server vs. Waiter/Waitress distinction, let’s look at some key similarities and differences between them.

With both Servers and Waiters/Waitresses taking orders and interacting with customers, some aspects of their work are similar. We listed the main ones in the table table below:

AspectBoth Server and Waiter/Waitress
Customer interactionRegularly engage with customers to ensure satisfaction
Taking ordersTake orders from customers and relay them to kitchen staff
Delivering ordersServe food and drinks to customers
Menu knowledgeShould have detailed knowledge of the restaurant’s menu

While some aspects of their work overlap, these two roles aren’t the same by definition, and there are some things that set them apart. To better understand this, let’s look at some of the key differences between them:

Scope of responsibilitiesHave broader range of tasks which may include managing reservations and coordinating with other staff membersMore focused on taking orders, delivering them and ensuring customer satisfaction
Work environmentUsually work in fine-dining restaurantsUsually work in traditional restaurant setting
MultitaskingHigher level of multitasking due to more responsibilitiesMultitasking typically related to food and drink service

Again, these differences aren’t set in stone and what each role encompasses may vary by establishment. However, this should help you differentiate between the two terms and better understand what they typically entail.

Differences in Duties Between Servers and Waiters/Waitresses

To paint a better picture of the Server vs. Waiter/Waitress distinction, let’s look at some of the key differences between these two roles more closely:

Scope of work

One of the key differences between these two roles is their scope of work.

The role of a Server involves more general work, such as managing information, clearing tables and adhering to sanitation and safety regulations. A Waiter/Waitress, on the other hand, pays more attention to individual tables and offers more personalized service.

A Waiter/Waitress pays closer attention to the details of each order and continues to assist customers throughout their entire stay at the restaurant. This includes offering refills, taking additional orders and more.

Additionally, a Server typically oversees large parts of the restaurant while a Waiter/Waitress focuses on assisting individual customers.

However, since not all establishments clearly define the line between a Server and a Waiter/Waitress, their scopes of work often intertwine.

Work environment

Not all restaurants employ both Servers and Waiters/Waitresses. More traditional restaurants only have one role which combines the responsibilities of both. Whether they refer to individuals in this role as Servers or Waiters/Waitresses is up to the establishment.

Upscale restaurants, may however, have both Servers and Waiters/Waitresses as part of their staff. In such an environment, their duties can be split. Servers will focus more on managing reservations and coordinating with the kitchen while Waiters/Waitresses will concentrate on delivering food and drinks.

When hiring employees in both roles, high-end restaurants want Servers to have a more polished look. They wear more formal attire while the Waiter/Waitress uniforms focus more on combining elegance and functionality. They often wear aprons to protect the rest of the uniform from spills and staining.

server placing reserved sign

Work requirements

Since restaurants often don’t take into account the Server vs. Waiter/Waitress distinction, work requirements for both roles are usually the same. However, upscale restaurants may look for different qualities when hiring individuals in both roles.

When this is the case, you’ll often see these establishments including organizational skills in the job description for Servers. This helps them bring in candidates who can offer exceptional service when managing reservations and coordinating with the rest of the staff.

For Waiters/Waitresses they may focus more on customer service due to the personalized nature of the role. Therefore, you’ll often see the job description for Waiters/Waitresses include requirements such as friendliness and communication skills.

However, being a good Waiter/Waitress and Server is all about ensuring that customers have a pleasant time during their stay at the restaurant. Although Waiters/Waitresses interact with customers more often, individuals in both roles should know how to create a positive atmosphere and keep customers happy at all times.

Difference Between a Server and Waiter/Waitress: Summary

As you’ve seen, the lines between the roles of a Server and Waiter/Waitress are blurred. Establishments often use both terms to describe the same role and differentiating between them isn’t always easy.

The distinction is clearer in high-end restaurants that hire workers in both roles. In more traditional restaurants, these two roles are combined into one and are often referred to as either a Server or a Waiter/Waitress.

If you’re looking to start working in a restaurant, make sure you understand how that particular establishment defines both roles. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of your role and preparing for it will be easier.

On the other hand, if you’re an establishment owner or a hiring manager that’s hiring workers for your restaurant, help potential applicants understand the difference by crafting job descriptions that are more accurate and concise.

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