The duties of waiting staff can be tedious and challenging but are vital to the success of the restaurant. Such duties include the following: preparing a section of tables before guests sit down offering cocktails, specialty drinks, wine, beer, or other beverages; recommending food options; requesting the chef to make changes in how food is prepared; pre-clearing the tables; and serving food and beverages to customers. In some higher-end restaurants, servers have a good knowledge of the wine list and can recommend food–wine pairings. At more expensive restaurants, servers memorize the ingredients of the dishes and the manner in which the food is prepared. Silver service staff are specially trained to serve at banquets or high-end restaurants. These servers follow specific rules and service guidelines, which makes this a skilled job. They generally wear black and white with a long, white apron (extending from the waist to the ankles). At expensive restaurants, waiting staff also keep blacklists of rude customers.
The head server is in charge of the waiting staff and is also frequently responsible for assigning seating. The head server must insure that all staff do their duties accordingly. The functions of a head server can overlap to some degree with that of the maître d'hôtel. Restaurants in North America employ an additional level of waiting staff, known as busboys or busgirls, increasingly referred to as bussers or server assistants, to clear dirty dishes, set tables, and otherwise assist the waiting staff.
Waiting offers flexible work schedules and the ability to work on a part-time basis. This makes the profession appealing to students, parents with childcare commitments, and people who also work other jobs. Most restaurants also provide their employees with free or discounted meals. High end restaurants that have only one dinner meal service often provide a shared staff meal prepared by one of the chefs. The chef may also provide samples of special or new menu preparations so the waiting staff can experience the dish and be better able to describe it for the patron. Other restaurants that have multiple shifts will give an employee a meal for free or at a discount.