Waiter/Waitress Alternative titles
Kaitiaki Tēpu Kai
Waiters/waitresses serve food and drinks in restaurants, hotels, clubs or other eating places.
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Waiters/waitresses earn an average of about $15 an hour.
They may also receive tips from customers, but it is up to the cafe/restaurant manager whether the tips are kept by individuals, or divided equally among staff.
Source: Hospitality New Zealand, 'Annual Wage Survey 2014'.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Waiters/waitresses may do some or all of the following:
- set and prepare tables for customers
- hand out menus and wine lists
- answer questions about the menu and take orders
- serve food and drinks
- clear tables and clean the restaurant
- polish cutlery and glasses
- restock food and drinks.
Skills and knowledge
Waiters/waitresses need to have:
- knowledge about menu items and wine
- food and drink service skills
- knowledge of food health and safety
- selling skills.
- work full or part-time hours, and may work evenings and weekends
- work in the dining areas of restaurants, hotels, clubs and other places where food and drink is served
- spend a lot of time on their feet, in environments that can be noisy and stressful.
What's the job really like?
Zara Reuelu-Smith - Waitress
An early start in waitressing
"I first started waitressing when I was 17," says Zara Reuelu-Smith. "I was thrown on the floor and was running around with coffee, and found I really liked it! It was the atmosphere, and the customers were really lovely.
"I enrolled at polytechnic where I did a cafe/bar course for a year. It was really enjoyable, and made me think seriously about being a waitress – and here I am!"
From coffee-making to cocktail-mixing
After she completed her course, Zara started out at a coffee cart, where she got to develop her coffee-making skills. "People think that coffee is just coffee, but there is more to it than that!"
When that business folded Zara found work at a restaurant and bar. "I did that for nearly a year. I got to work the bar and became really interested in cocktail-making, but we did really late nights where we would often not get out of there until 4am."
Customers becoming friends
After deciding the hours were not for her, Zara started work at a busy city cafe, where she has found the variety and regular customers make the job fun. "The customers make your day awesome. I have made a couple of friends that were customers, so that’s a really cool thing."
Ashleigh checks out what it's like to work in a large restaurant - 7.59mins. (Video courtesy of Dave Mason Productions.)
Clinton: So Ashleigh’s off to Soul Bar and Bistro in the heart of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour to meet Operations Manager Geeling.
Geeling: Hi, Ashleigh? I’m Geeling, welcome to Soul.
Geeling: Hospitality I think is probably one of the most exciting, growing industries in this country. We see the figures coming through every year – how tourism and hospitality grows by leaps and bounds, way above your normal types of careers and businesses.
Clinton: It pays to look the part in this job and presentation is all important.
Geeling: I think the key things that I look for when I’m employing new people is, first, skills – if it’s someone experienced then I expect a certain range of skill, if it’s someone inexperienced then I expect…if they’ve got basic balancing qualities then they’ll be ok! Then I need to find out if they genuinely like people – that is really, really important. If you don’t like people, find another job.
Clinton: Ashleigh helps apprentice Trevlyn wipe down the tables.
Trevlyn: Ok, so since we have sprayed and wiped the tables, we just have to put side plates on all the tables. So if you just want to grab those and we’ll start.
Clinton: Setting the tables up for the lunchtime crowds is thirsty work – which brings us to another part of the job – making and serving drinks. Here to show Ashleigh the tricks of the trade is Bar Manager Mark Holland.
Mark: We’re going to make a Soul Cocktail.
Ashleigh: Soul Cocktail?
Mark: One of our signature cocktails. It’s called a strawberry, so what you need to do is grab one of these Boston shakers, and grab the silver and then grab the glass as well.
Clinton: First up a good handful of lime wedges …
Mark: Yep, that’s it. Give it a good squish.
Clinton: Next up a nip of something stronger…a bit of this…and a bit of that…and it’s time to shake.
Mark: That’s it!
Mark: And then you tip it up like that…
Clinton: And it’s all about the finishing touches.
Mark: And there you have one strawberry cocktail.
Clinton: 17 year old Tom Martin is one year into his apprenticeship.
Ashleigh: So do you need any qualifications to get into this industry?
Tom: To get into the hospitality industry you don’t have to have any qualifications at all. You can start from absolutely nowhere and start as a runner or a waiter or a barman, or you can a managers degree and start working there as well, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing, what you’ve done, there’s always work in the hospitality industry for you.
Geeling: I think it is important to do an apprenticeship because it gives you on-the-job training, and in this particular career it is just invaluable having on-the-job training. It’s quite funny, sometimes I get people applying for jobs who have done degrees in hospitality but have had no real on-the-floor experience, and unfortunately when they start with me, they have to start from the bottom again, you know? Where as the apprentices, they start from the bottom, they’re learning as they go and by the time they’ve finished their apprenticeships three years down the track they are senior waiters, earning great money and on the floor managing their own sections ready, probably, to take the next step into junior management.
Clinton: Another really important part of the job is meeting and greeting the customers.
Ashleigh: Hi, welcome to Soul Bar, is it just the two of you?
Ashleigh: It is.
Ashleigh: Would you like sit inside or outside?
Customer: It’s a sunny day, it would be good to sit outside.
Ashleigh: Ok, we’ve got our menus here, would you like to come this way?
Geeling: You know, one of the main things that I saw when you were doing that, do you know why they were smiling?
Geeling: Because you were smiling!
Clinton: Next up Ashleigh dons her chef whites to meet Head Chef Gareth Stewart.
Gareth: Hi, come in – don’t be scared!
Gareth: Do you like scallops?
Ashleigh: Yep, scallops are yummy.
Gareth: Yeah? You eat shellfish? Sweet. Now what you’re going to do is just take your scallop – oh these are a good size, and if you see any of these muscle bits, you’re going to cu the muscle off to make sure everything is really, really nice for the customers.
Ashleigh: Ok, that’s sounds good.
Gareth: Alright, sweet.
Gareth: You’ve got 10 minutes to get it done, come on!
Ashleigh: Ok, I’m going!
Ashleigh: What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Gareth: The pressure – I think all chefs are addicted to pressure, and creating different dishes. That’s probably what I enjoy most.
Ashleigh: When you look at people waiting and stuff, you think, yeah – it’s just a part time job, I can go any get on anytime. But what people don’t realise, and what I realized working here, is that it is a profession. You can progress a lot in this industry, you can come up to owning your own restaurant one day.
Geeling: I think Ashleigh did really, really well. She was incredibly enthusiastic, she was really open to learning new things, and she was very, very friendly, so I think she has a great career ahead of her.
There are no specific entry requirements for waiters/waitresses, as training is done on the job.
Waiters/waitresses may work towards a New Zealand certificate in Hospitality (Food and Beverage) Level 3 while on the job.
You can also train to be a steward (similar to the role of waiter/waitress) with the Defence Force.
- ServiceIQ website - information about national certificates in hospitality for cafe, bar and restaurant work
- Defence Careers website - information about training as a steward
There are no specific secondary educational requirements, but NCEA Level 1 English is preferred.
Waiters/waitresses need to be:
- friendly, helpful and polite
- good at serving people
- good at remembering things
- able to work well under pressure
- quick and efficient
- reliable and punctual
- able to work well in a team.
Useful experience for waiters/waitresses includes:
- restaurant, cafe or catering work
- work involving customer service
- retail work.
Waiters/waitresses need to be fit and healthy, as they are on their feet all day. They should also have a clean and tidy appearance.
View information on courses in the course database
Find out more about training
What are the chances of getting a job?
High turnover means vacancies common
Chances of getting a job are generally good for wait staff – particularly those with previous experience. This is because:
- vacancies arise often, as most people see the job of waiter/waitress as a temporary one
- hospitality is a large industry, employing about 126,000 people.
Holiday periods, such as Christmas/New Year and summer, are good times to find casual and part-time work.
Types of employers varied
Waiters/waitresses can work for:
- bars and pubs
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2013 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
- Restaurant Association of New Zealand, '2013 Hospitality Industry Report', accessed December 2014, (www.restaurantnz.co.nz).
- ServiceIQ, Careers New Zealand interview, December 2014, (www.serviceiq.org.nz).
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Other vacancy websites
Progression and specialisations
With experience, waiters/waitresses may progress to other positions within the company, such as cafe/restaurant manager.
How many people are doing this job?
Job vacancies by region
Updated 4 Jun 2015