Can't "Wait" to Move On? 7 Career Paths for Experienced Restaurant Servers
Being a server is a great place to start your food service career. It doesn’t require any formal education and you’ll be trained on the job. Once you’ve had a chance to learn and hone your skills, you may be looking for the next step in your career. There are many options available to you depending on what you’ve learned, what you like and what setting you prefer.
1. High-end restaurant server: After working your way up to the most coveted shift at your restaurant and perhaps reaching head server status, you may be looking to move on to a position at a higher-end restaurant where you’ll refine your skills, learn some new ones and make more money. You may even receive special server training known as “silver service” where you’ll learn a formal style of serving food tableside. FYI: head waiters at top restaurants can earn from $80,000 - $150,000 a year including tips.
2. Become a chef or part of the kitchen staff: If you find you’re more interested in learning to prepare and create new dishes, you’ll need to attend a culinary school for a couple of years. You’ll work your way up through the ranks such as: “commis” (junior staff, typically recent culinary graduate); station chef (in charge of a particular area of the cooking such as grilling, pastry, etc.); sous chef (2nd in line to the head chef and in charge of specialty cooking and overseeing the kitchen staff); and head chef (in charge of the menu, creating new dishes, running the overall kitchen operations… this is the big boss.)
3. Sommelier: You might have an interest in becoming a wine expert that recommends wine pairings to go with a particular food choice and serves it in a an specific and professional manner. You’ll need to take courses that will earn you the title “Sommelier.” There are 4 tests, the final and most difficult one being the highest designation, “Master Sommelier,” earned through the Court of Master Sommeliers. You should be aware though that only 249 people have earned the title of Master Sommelier since it was founded.
4. Catering: Caterers provide food and service for all different venues and events. You might work on a contract basis for weddings, conferences, festivals, etc. or provide regular and continuing service for a particular organization such as a school or hospital.
5. Food stylist: If you have an artistic flair, you might want to attend culinary school and learn more about plating and presenting eye-pleasing designs that present special dishes in unique ways. You may also learn about ice and food sculpting. These skills are in demand on cruise ships, in casinos and wedding venues.
6. Food Service Manager: If you’re great at planning and have good people skills, you might want to work as a food service manager. Depending on the size of the business, you may have responsibility to hire and manage staff, control the budget and handle the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Large resorts, casinos and cruise ships often have several themed restaurants to manage. You’ll need to attend a culinary school to learn the ropes.
7. Assistant General Manager: Once you’ve had a chance to lead your team as a head waiter or team leader, you may move into management (on salary) as assistant general manager. You’ll begin learning the upper-level management skills you’ll need to eventually become general manager.
As you consider a long term career in the Food and Beverage part of the hospitality industry, bear in mind you’ll still be working long hours, often on the weekends, evenings and holidays. You need to find the balance between being productive and profitable versus keeping your guests and staff happy. As you move up into management, you’ll learn more about the business side in terms of budgets, payroll, marketing, hiring and firing and will need to become more strategic in your thinking about the growth of your business and less about just preparing for the day ahead. It’s an exciting industry with plenty of options for creativity and fulfillment.