Occupation Thesaurus: Restaurant Server (Waiter/Waitress)

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Write Your Character's career with authority using the occupation thesaurus. Here's all the detail you need for you waiter, waitress, or server character's job. Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Restaurant Server

Overview: A server is someone who interacts directly with the patrons of a restaurant, bar, cafe, diner, pub, or other location where food and drink is served. They oversee the customer experience, greeting and seating guests, relaying any specials that the establishment wishes to up-sell, answering questions about the menu items, taking orders, relaying special requests or dietary conditions to the cooking staff, serving food and drinks as they are prepared, and delivering the bill when the customer is finished. Wait staff may also be responsible for collecting payment, carrying away dishes, packing up leftovers, dealing with customer complaints, and light food preparation (such as plating salads and premade desserts.)

Necessary Training: in most situations, no post-secondary education is required to be a server, but a high school diploma is often the benchmark for many employers. Depending on the restaurant’s pedigree, extra courses and training may be required or encouraged. A server may also need to take training to obtain a permit to serve alcohol.

Servers will receive onsite mentoring and instruction on specific business protocols, be trained on any technology systems used by the restaurant, educated on food preparation and safety, and taught how to handle and execute customer requests.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, exceptional memory, good listening skills, hospitality, making people laugh, multitasking, promotion, reading people

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, calm, charming, confident, cooperative, courteous, diplomatic, easygoing, efficient, enthusiastic, extroverted, friendly, funny, hospitable, independent, industrious, obedient, observant, organized, persuasive, professional, proper, quirky, resourceful, responsible, sensible, sophisticated, tolerant, witty

NEGATIVE: Gossipy, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: impossible-to-please customers, dine-and-dashers, patrons who have extreme food allergies yet expect food to be altered even if a restaurant is not set up to adhere to specific food safety standards (for, say, serving Celiacs), rude customers, being blamed for poorly prepared food or incorrect orders when the cooking staff is to blame, other servers stealing tips, giving exceptional service but being tipped poorly, management who insist on micromanaging, scheduling inflexibility when one needs time off, not having enough staff working to serve the patrons adequately, being forced to make excuses to customers when cooking staff misses or bungles an order and it arrives late, customers who flirt, are disrespectful, or make unwanted advances, being forced to share tips with those who put in sub par effort, working with people that one doesn’t like or has no respect for, being berated by customers when food is not up to standard or is contaminated in some way (a stray hair, a fly, cutlery that has not been cleaned properly, etc.), struggling to make a living wage, creepy regular patrons who make a server uncomfortable by asking prying or personal questions, or by displaying ownership (refusing to be served by anyone other than their favorite server)

People They Might Interact With: customers, management,  cooking and prep staff, dishwashers, restaurant greeters, delivery people, food and beverage reps, food and safety inspectors, district managers or other people from head office (if the restaurant is a chain)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: A character who is struggling with self-worth because employment is hard to find, they lack the education needed for other jobs that are available, or they wish to break free of any social difficulties or fears they have may find being a server is rewarding work. Being gainfully employed and growing proficient at what they do will boost their social skills and self-confidence.
  • Love and Belonging: A character who feels adrift in life may turn to serving to feel part of something larger, especially if the establishment is a fun place to work and has a family-like environment among staffers. Here the character could feel accepted for who they are and that they belong.
  • Physiological Needs: In most cultures, survival depends on employment, so a character who was finding it hard to make ends meet to pay rent, put food on the table, etc. may turn to serving as it is work that often doesn’t require specialized education. A serving job may also have evening hours of employment, which may work perfect for a character who needs to bring in extra cash when they already have a day job.

Common Work-Related Settings: bar, black-tie event, break room, casual dining restaurant, coffeehouse, deli, diner, fast food restaurant, high school cafeteria, ice cream parlor, nightclub, pool hall, wedding reception

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: Servers are often portrayed as washed out, jaded workers, or even as “bubbly and not too bright.” In reality, servers have to place a lot of care into what they do to ensure customers enjoy the experience and wish to return, so factor in all the skills required to be an effective server and steer away of these one-note cliches. If for no other reason, consider that a good portion of the server’s income will come from tipping (in most places) and so they are invested in making sure the customer receives strong, friendly service.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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