Host vs. Server: What Are the Key Differences?
Updated September 26, 2023
A restaurant's staff is a huge part of every guest's experience. The host and the server are the faces of the restaurant for diners, welcoming them in, showing them to their table and helping them have an enjoyable experience. Even though they have similar goals, the positions of host and server have quite a few differences.
In this article, we discuss the role of a host and the role of a server, their differences and how you can excel at either job.
Related: Top 12 Careers in Food
What is a host?
The host is often the first person a guest meets when they enter a restaurant. Hosts welcome guests when they enter the restaurant and then take them to be seated. seated. The host keeps track of which tables and servers are available and escorts diners to the appropriate tables. They also manage the reservation list and keep guests happy as they wait, especially during busy mealtimes. A host is usually paid by the hour.
Read more: Learn About Being a Host/Hostess
What is a server?
A restaurant server is in charge of the diner’s experience once the host has seated them. This includes explaining the menu and specials, taking orders and providing meal recommendations, keeping up with service throughout the meal and handling the diner’s bill. A server's duties can depend on the restaurant and the season, and their pay can depend on their customer base and tips.
Read more: Learn About Being a Restaurant Server
Differences between a host and a server
Here are the differences that stand out between being a host and being a server:
The duties of a host may include:
Taking reservation information by phone or in person
Finding seating and leading guests to their table
Answering basic questions from guests
Updating guests on the status of orders or reservations
Addressing customer concerns
Making sure the restaurant is clean
Taking payments when customers leave
The duties of a server may include:
Greeting diners seated at their tables
Answering menu questions
Offering meal suggestions and wine pairings
Bringing food and drink to the table
Setting and clearing tables
In a traditional restaurant setting, a host usually receives an hourly wage at a rate based on location and type of restaurant. The national average is $12.44 per hour. A host may receive a higher base pay per hour than a server, but they rarely receive tips.
A server earns a base amount hourly plus any tips received for their service. The national average base pay is $13.86 hourly plus tips, so the annual amount can vary significantly depending on the restaurant and the server's performance. Different state minimum wage laws apply to tipped positions like servers, so the hourly base pay rate may be low with the potential to earn much more with tips.
New restaurant employee payment models are changing how some restaurants pay their servers. Some establishments share tips among all employees in the front and back of the house, and some share hosting or bussing duties among servers.
Challenges and disadvantages
Both jobs can be stressful because they involve helping customers enjoy their dining experience and solving any problems that may arise. It's important that a server and a host are both able to remain calm in uncomfortable situations and create a pleasant experience for their guests, no matter what their own mindset is.
A particular challenge for a server is the number of different tasks involved. A server must multitask, keeping in mind which tables need what services and sometimes even memorizing orders. The server also has to manage many people at one time and communicate between the back of the restaurant and the front. The job of the server can be a very active position and may require physical endurance because you spend long hours on your feet.
The host's challenges are primarily in managing people. As a host, it helps to be aware of your surroundings to ensure you seat your guests at the best table for their group while managing reservations. A host must balance customer happiness with the realities of a finite number of tables and waitstaff, helping guests experience fewer delays or other problems.
Advantages and benefits
Hosts earn consistent wages regardless of their guests' experiences because they earn hourly pay and don’t depend on tips. The host position also involves less moving around, which may be a good fit if you have limited mobility.
Servers can boost their earnings with the potential to earn tips from satisfied customers. Being a server also means more interaction with guests, which may be a good fit if you have a social personality.
Related: What Are Food Service Skills?
The following skills are beneficial for both servers and hosts:
Helpful skills for a host may include:
Attention to detail
Ability to make friendly first impressions both in person and on the phone
Skills that are helpful for a server may also include:
Physical coordination and stamina
Knowledge of different dishes, preparations and wine pairings
Advancement opportunities for servers and hosts
Both these positions have the potential to advance into other restaurant positions, such as bartender, cocktail server, shift lead or restaurant manager. The customer service and guest experience skills that both positions cultivate may translate well into jobs like customer service representative, salesperson or cashier.
A server may acquire food service knowledge that could help in culinary school or a food preparation position. If you have extensive experience with wine pairings and the finer details of creating a menu, you may find a career sourcing food and beverages for a restaurant, hotel or store.
As a hostess, your expertise might translate well to working as a hotel concierge or elsewhere in the hospitality industry. Your ability to manage space and people while maintaining a calm demeanor can be useful in an event planning or management position.
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