What it takes to be a server/bartender.

Do you have what it takes to be a server?

You’re thinking about getting a part-time job or a summer job where you don’t have to work a lot and make a few extra bucks. Or maybe you’re not really sure what to do after graduation and need some money to pay back your student loans, get a car, get out of your parent’s house, whatever.


I believe most people that work in the hospitality industry landed there thinking about a temporary position, easy work, and quick money. Given the high turnover rates, I believe most people simply don’t realize how hard of a job serving can be.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the personality traits you need to have in order to be successful in this amazing industry.

  • First of all, and obviously enough, you must be outgoing: Enjoy talking to new and different people every day. On average, every 45 minutes you will be meeting 2 to 3 new individuals, with their quirks and manias. And boy do they have quirks when eating.

It’s like performing to a live audience, and no wonder so many actors have done it early in their careers. I can imagine how working in a restaurant must be great researching grounds for building characters.

And it’s not that shy people can’t do it, but it takes a lot of effort to overcome their instinct of keeping to themselves and most give up. Having said that, I do know one or two really shy guys that “put on a great show” and are amazing servers.

  • Have an innate sense of urgency: some people are fast and it’s not about thinking capabilities, it’s about how you move and do things. Think about when you must clean your room: do you get it done as quickly as possible or do you take your sweet time?
In most restaurants, servers “run food” for everybody, not just their tables.

When service starts every task you perform, from bringing drink refills and running food to taking payment, it’s “pedal to the metal”. It’s all urgent and you want to be as fast as you can but look like your strolling through a park. Never appearing rattled by the number of things that need doing right now.

With time and experience you just don’t feel rushed anymore, but when you’re first starting it really seems like everyone is moving so fast they are a blur.

  • Be able to multi-task: a server will, on average, cares for 4 to 8 tables at a time. That’s your “section”. That means you need to take orders (with all their modifications), bring drinks and food, do quality checks, take payment and clean up all those tables at the same time.

Plus, you will be carrying out conversations and engaging with them as well. Just writing about it seems overwhelming, and you taught it would be an easy buck. We haven’t even talked about “side duties” yet.

Yes, most restaurants will divide the operating tasks such as polishing cutlery and glasses, folding napkins, stocking and organizing the expediting station between the servers on duty, and those are to be done throughout your shift, not after.

  • Be a good seller: don’t fool yourself, the reason why there are so many perks in serving is that you are a salesperson, pretty much working on commission (tips). And as a salesperson, you and your team are responsible for generating the revenue that will pay for the entire operation.

It helps if you know a little about food and enjoy eating and drinking. People will ask you to describe a dish, will ask for your opinion about “what’s good” or “what’s your favorite” and your answer defines if they buy (orders) or not.

Another big part is upselling orders. That means offering an “upgrade” to their meal, such as house dip, sweet potato fries, a double shot on their drinks, you know, all those little menu items that cost a little more. They not only give you a higher check (therefore higher tip), they also mean a lot to the restaurant’s total revenue.

  • Be a little masochist: not literately, but one of my favorite managers of all time used to say, “you need to have something weird about you, be a little masochist because we get off by making other people happy”. And although masochism may be a slight push on reality, it’s pretty close.

Handsome bartender making cocktails for beautiful women in a cla

The best servers I’ve met are legitimately happy when they “make someone else happy”. And it does become part of you because it’s contagious. When you provide a nice experience, that energy transfers back to you and pumps you up in return, its infatuating.

Depending on where you work, you will also need a license to serve alcohol. In Ontario, that’s called Smart Serve and it’s a governmental program consisted of a short course and an exam that will ensure you know the local legislation and follow the rules. All Canadian provinces and US states require some sort of licensing and I will further discuss Smart Serve on a different post.

I really don’t mean to scare anybody into entering the industry. It’s a fun place to work, full of interesting people and some of the best friends I’ll ever make. There are lots of perks, but there’s a lot of work as well.

Hopefully, I helped answer some of the questions you had and made your decision easier. If there’s something I didn’t address or a specific question you can contact me. Or if there’s a topic you’d like to know more about, please leave your comments below.


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