10 Things To Know Before Hiring Wait Staff


You’ve made your dream of opening a restaurant: Congratulations! The hard part is out of the way.

Or is it? Unfortunately, opening the doors is only half the battle. It will get easier as you learn the ropes and understand the business, but some things never seem to be easy. One of those is hiring, especially wait staff.

If you think having great food is the only important part of owning a restaurant, then maybe you rethink your choice (kidding, of course!)  All jokes aside, customer service is important to most customers, and it can make the difference between someone becoming a regular or never coming back. If you could wait on everyone yourself, you could be assured that every customer was treated exactly how you want, but you can’t, so you have to hire people that will. This is not as easy as it sounds. Before you hire the first person that hands you an application, read the following tips to avoid common mistakes when it comes to hiring wait staff for your restaurant.

1. Employees are Your Biggest Expense

No matter what type of hourly wage you are paying your servers, you’re paying more than you think. When you first hire someone, you can’t simply let them go in their own direction and do what they think is right; you have to train them. This costs money and/or time. Every time a server quits, you have to train someone to replace them. This is an ongoing cost that never goes away. The only way to minimize it is to do everything you can to make your employees want to work for you for a long time. It’s a good idea to figure out how you’re going to do this before hiring anyone. Hint: It’s not always about money (although this helps!).

2. One Good Server is Better than 5 Lousy Servers

In a perfect world, every employee you have would show up on time, be wearing what they are supposed to wear, do their job to your satisfaction and not take too many breaks.

Newsflash: It’s not a perfect world, especially when it comes to hiring for your restaurant. For every outstanding employee you have, you’ll have a few that are okay, and even more that you wish would quit. While you will need a minimum number of servers to keep the restaurant running, it’s always better to take your time and find the right person than hire anyone and everyone that shows interest just so you have some bodies. Bad servers turn away customers. If you have one server that’s just not very good, you can play the odds and hope that not a lot of customers realize it. If you have an entire wait staff full of mediocre or bad servers, and one or two good ones, the odds are not in your favor.

3. It’s Not an “Anyone Can Do It” Job

For those that have never waited tables, it’s a misconception that anyone can do it. While it’s not rocket science, it does require the ability to think on your feet, make snap decisions using good judgment, and remembering details. All with a big fat smile on your face. It’s long hours, often for little pay, and it’s definitely not something you should hire the wrong person for. If you’ve ever eaten in a restaurant and had a bad server, ask yourself if you would want that person representing your restaurant?

4. Know What You Want Before You Hire Anyone

Unless you’ve hired wait staff before, you may not know exactly what you need or want in your business. While all restaurants are different, most have servers doing busy work (rolling silverware, cleaning tables, etc.) during downtime. Make a list of tasks that you want to always have done.

Also, make clear rules about breaks, cell phone usage, and chatting with friends and family that come in to visit. While you can’t cover every single thing that will come up, if you take some time to think about it beforehand, you’ll eliminate a lot of problems down the line.

5. Remember: Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Yes, it’s already been mentioned, but it’s worth repeating. Diners visit restaurants for a whole host of reasons, and the quality of the food isn’t the only thing that will keep them coming back. A restaurant visit is more than a meal; it’s an experience. Make sure all of your employees know this and treat all customers like they are grateful for their business. It will make a difference in your bottom line, guaranteed.

6. Avoid Hiring Friends and Family if You Can

It’s one thing to give your nephew a job as a busboy; it’s another entirely to staff your restaurant with mostly people you know and love. You might think that those close to you are sure to provide better service than strangers, but the opposite is actually true. Close friends and relatives will often expect special treatment, and reprimanding a relative can cause family drama that’s just not worth it.

If you are desperately in need of help, then it may be okay, but unless it’s a last resort, hire the most qualified applicants you can find for the job, not just a friend or relative looking for work.

7. Understand Payroll and Tax Laws For Hiring Wait Staff May Be Different

In some states, you can pay wait staff less than minimum wage, which they then must make up for in tips. In most cases it works out, but if it doesn’t, you may be responsible for making up the difference. Make sure you understand the laws regarding wait staff payroll, and keep in mind that it varies from state to state. The best thing to do is to hire an accountant to help you figure it out before problems arise.

8. Buy Your Employee Uniforms

If you’re going to require your servers to wear a uniform, or even an apron, you should cover the costs if you can. There are plenty of options for front of the house staff at Chef Works, and everything is top quality, guaranteed to impress your diners.

9. Understand Employment Laws

This shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but when hiring, do not let personal feelings, prejudices, or biases get in the way. In all states, you are not allowed to refuse to hire someone based on race, gender, or religion. If it simply appears that you are refusing to hire someone based on these reasons, you can find yourself entangled in lawsuits that will never leave your side. Not to mention that the bad publicity surrounding these types of cases, and the speed news travels in a modern age could ruin your business before you get started.

Do yourself a favor, and hire the best person for the job, regardless of other factors.

10. Be Able to Teach the Basics

While some things may seem like common sense (like keeping a customer’s drink refilled), if someone has never waited tables, they may not know the basics. This is fine, but remember that not all diners are sympathetic to these reasons. Make sure that you have someone on staff that can train each new hire well, whether that person is you or a someone else dedicated to the job.


Hiring wait staff is an important task, and one that should not be taken lightly. Since your servers will more than likely be in contact with the guests much more often than the owner or manager of the restaurant, it’s important that they understand exactly what is expected of them before they start. Good service is part of the package when it comes to dining out, and customers know this.

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