November 22

Restaurant Side Work for Servers: From Best to Worst


A list of the best and worst side work for servers—so you know where you stand. 

As restaurant workers, I think we’re cursed to forever scrutinize other restaurants when we go out to eat. 

Crusty stuff all over the condiment caps? Eh. Dusty wainscoting? Eh. unpolished and bent cutlery? Okay, this one I’m not too particular about— I’ve done my fair share of polishing to understand that one isn’t for every establishment.

Side work is not the most entertaining part of the job, but it’s vital to a well-run restaurant and does make a difference in appearance. Also, when it’s slow—side work is the best way to help the time pass quickly. 

You don’t have to love it—but you should know how to spot the better tasks out there. 

To get started, we put together a general ranking of the best to worst side work for servers. Now, it’s up to you to figure out how to always ensure you get the more enjoyable tasks.  

Best to Worst Restaurant Side Work for Servers: 

1. Folding napkins
Once you learn how to do it right, folding napkins can be that zen moment you need before shit hits the fan. Additionally, it’s easily set aside if a table walks in. 

2. Polishing glassware
There is something satisfying about getting all those water marks off glassware, making it nice, clear, and shiny (then ruining it). Of course, when lipstick comes into play, that’s another story. 

3. Roll-ups
Roll-ups are a saving grace during a lull in service—they’re simple enough to help the time pass. If it’s the last thing you have to do before clocking out and enjoying your evening, not so much. 

4. Sorting or polishing silverware
For me, sorting and or polishing silverware came at the end of service in a never-ending lineup of silverware baskets. It’s quick and easy but also a strenuous eyeroll.  

5. Marrying and refilling condiments
Marrying and refilling condiments is just kind of gross and messy. It’s also something that is super annoying to set aside if a customer needs something. 

*RANDOM INTERLUDE: I once had a table of 20-year-old boys squeeze out a whole bottle of Heinz Ketchup on the table and then put the condiment basket on top to cover it up. I wish them good health and fortune. 

6. Detailing chairs and table bases
If it’s absolutely DEAD, then this can be your best bet since it takes forever, but do it sparingly if you want to avoid more knee and back pain than you already have. 

7. Cleaning bar coolers
COLD AND LABORIOUS! Avoid this side work if you can. You have to take everything out, then wipe out god knows what, only to put everything back in. Also not great for your back and knees.

8. Burning and cleaning the ice machine
Cleaning the ice machine is necessary, but if you’re not careful, you’ll burn yourself or cut yourself on leftover broken glass that someone forgot to clean out properly. 
9. Scrapping shit off from under the tables
Literally almost the grossest side work you can get—but someone has to do it. Put on some gloves, and treat yourself when your off the clock is all I gotta say.  

10. Cleaning the bathroom
This is an obvious one. No one like to clean bathrooms. Some don’t even want to clean their own bathrooms. This wins the worst side work for servers. 

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.