For many, waiting tables seems like an ideal job. The hours are flexible, the tips are in cash, and the environment can be a lot of fun. For some people, waiting tables on the weekend provide as much or more money as they make during their full-time job! But how does one go about getting one of these jobs? Restaurants always seem to need people, but, like most fields, managers prefer to hire people with experience. What if you don’t have experience? No problem!
A lack of experience does not necessarily mean that you won’t get hired as a waiter. It may be more difficult at a fine-dining establishment, where they expect their waiters to have years of experience, but there are plenty of opportunities for people who don’t mind working in different types of restaurants. Many of the franchise, family-style establishments, for example, are willing to hire servers without prior experience, and the tips really aren’t much worse than at the higher-end establishments. Here are a few tips for getting a job in one of these restaurants.
First, consider the timing of your application. The best time to apply for jobs at restaurants is at the beginning of the busy season. This would be, in most places, in late spring, although in some places such as ski resorts or college towns, the seasons would vary. Sometimes you can slip into a position at the end of the busy season as well, as many servers leave to take more lucrative jobs during the slow time of year.
Your application process itself is crucial to whether or not you get hired. Obviously, if you know somebody that works or has worked at the restaurant, make sure you write it on your application and mention it to the hiring manager. However, not everybody has that luxury. Even if you don’t know anybody at the restaurant, you can still make an impression of your application. Make sure you put every possible job you’ve done in the past that relates to customer service. This means anything, even working as a cashier (you have to handle money as a waiter!). Because it is the service industry, managers like to see that applicants have successfully worked in environments in which cooperation with the public is important. A common managerial phrase is that it is easy to teach someone a menu, but not easy to teach someone to be polite to customers.
One critical mistake that many prospective servers make is to simply turn in their application at the restaurant, leaving it with a host or bartender, and then leave, hoping for a phone call from a manager. This will never work. Restaurants get dozens of applications per week, most of which go into a big pile on the manager’s desk that never gets looked at. The key is to introduce yourself to the manager. If the manager is busy, come back at another time (usually between 2 and 4 in the afternoon is a good time, as these are most restaurant slow hours). Always ask to speak to the manager! The important thing is to match your face to the application. Make sure you look your best, smile, and engage any employees you may meet while waiting for the manager. Often times managers will hire people based solely on how they looked or behaved at an interview many managers are looking for someone who will fit in with the other employees and the image of the restaurant, and if you present yourself well, your lack of experience will mean very little.
But what if you want to work at a higher-end restaurant? Well, it is possible, but it is much more difficult to do so without experience. Many of the servers at fine-dining establishments have worked in restaurants for many years, working their way up the restaurant ladder, so waltzing into a four-star establishment and expecting to get hired as a waiter is a little unrealistic. There are options, though, if you really want to work in these types of places. First, you can try to get hired in a different capacity a host, a busboy, or a back-waiter. These jobs will get your foot in the door, and if you demonstrate a decent work ethic and a desire to learn the job, you may be promoted from within.
Another option, though it is not recommended, is to bluff your way into the job. It is really not the best thing to do if you can help it, because most likely your lack of experience will shine through fairly quickly, but if you are desperate it’s a possibility. What would be required in this situation would be to learn everything you can about waiting tables from websites, other waiters, observation, etc. Study wines and winemaking, and learn about different cheeses and types of high-end foods such as caviar. At the interview, try and impress the manager with your knowledge, and be vague about your past experience. If the restaurant is desperate, and you really know your stuff, you might just get hired. Again, this option is not recommended, and if you get hired and they are exposed, your table-waiting career could be effectively over.
In the end, it is a much better option to get a job in a restaurant that is more apt to hire people without experience mid-range, family-style restaurants, and franchise establishments. With some proper grooming and some attention to your application, and with proper timing, there is no reason why somebody without experienced wouldn’t get hired. This way you can learn the tricks of the trade and gain the experience that the higher-end restaurants are looking for if that is indeed your ultimate goal.
In the end