I noticed, in an article recounting the very robust and competent response of a young lady to inappropriate conduct, that she was described as a 'server'.

I have never seen this use of the word before and the OED seems to class it as 'rare' in the general sense of serving and has no modern references when used in this specific of table-waiting.

The Ngram of 'restaurant server' (the only disambiguation I could think of from the computer use of the word) shows rising usage in American English from the 1980s and escalating usage in the 21st century.

But the Ngram has zero return for BrE and I never remember hearing or reading of this context previously.

I assume it is a genderless way of referring to waitresses and waiters but it is closely related to the word 'servant' which I would have assumed to be a word that not everyone would wish to be described by.

Is the usage appearing in BrE at all ? And is the word acceptable to use in this context ?

EDIT: The previous question did not deal with BrE usage which was my question.

  • The online OED has this meaning for "server" (An attendant at a meal, one who serves food and drink to those sitting at table.) ... not marked rare or AmE. I wonder when that change was made in the OED.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 23, 2018 at 11:32
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    I have known the word "server" when "waiter" was not even common and AmE had not yet percolated into the British Commonwealth nations. So it must be British, and it must have been there all the time.
    – Kris
    Jul 23, 2018 at 12:09
  • 1
    In case it isn't obvious from the context in other answers, the relationship is with "serving" food, not with "servants" to many people; which is why it's unlikely to offend people. "Waiter" is actually closer to "servant" in my opinion; because to me it implies more that you are "waiting" specifically on instructions from the table; while "server" just implies that you're going to bring them what they need to eat, but aren't waiting at their table for the next instruction afterwords.
    – JMac
    Jul 23, 2018 at 19:07
  • Your question seems to imply a dichotomy in English - that of American vs British English (compare your title with your currently second-last line, which together implies that non-AmE = British English). I dispute the implication - I speak English, but speak neither of those dialects. I clicked the question because I have an answer to the title question, but then discover the body asks something entirely different. Is the real question the one in the title (is it only AmE), or the one in the body (is it British)?
    – Glen_b
    Jul 24, 2018 at 0:45

3 Answers 3


All the sources cited below suggest that the term “server” meaning waiter/waitress is a typical AmE usage which may have spread because of its genderless connotation.

the American Heritage Dict. gives as the first definition of server:

a. One who serves food and drink.

and the Cambridge Dict., McMillan Dict. and ODOdefines the above usage as AmE.

From “resources.workable.com” Restaurant Server job description:

We are looking for a competent Restaurant Server to take orders and deliver them to our guests maintaining and enhancing the quality of our customer service. You will work in close collaboration with colleagues and follow established health and safety standards. The goal is to accelerate our business development by providing customers with a memorable experience ​

As for usage, the following American site culinarylore.com suggests that:

Unless you’ve been under a rock for a while, you know that you are no longer supposed to call a female waiter a waitress. However, at the same time, hardly anyone refers to a female server as a waiter, and most restaurants are using the term server for both male and female employees: “Hi, I’m Shelley, and I’ll be your server today.”

Why Don’t We Say Waitress Anymore?

Waitress has went the way of many gender biased terms in English that are seen as sexist. There have always been lots of biased terms in English, and not only sexist ones, racist ones as well.

The word server was widely adapted in restaurants, for the reasons stated above, perhaps out of confusion or perhaps because people couldn’t shake the association of waiter with male.

  • 4
    Ironic that to avoid any suggestion of inequality we replace it with a word which denotes servility and inferior status
    – mgb
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:44
  • 7
    @mgb It neither denotes nor connotes anything of the sort. Relating "serve" in the sense of food with servitude is an example of the etymological fallacy. Serving someone food does not suggest being servile or inferior to them. Jul 23, 2018 at 16:54
  • 3
    In Los Angeles you can just follow Stephen Fry and refer to the person serving in a restaurant as "actor"
    – mgb
    Jul 23, 2018 at 17:48
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    I'm not sure I'd take English usage advice from a site that says "has went".
    – bof
    Jul 23, 2018 at 20:34
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    @bof - people say “has went” not this site. Goodbye
    – user 66974
    Jul 23, 2018 at 20:53

In British English we have waiter and waitress. When I hear server I think computing.

I went for job ads instead of a dictionary

Waiter/Waitress/Bartender Featured
EX4, Exeter

WAITER Featured
St. Clements, OX4
£8.00 to £8.50 per hour - Good Rates, plenty of work, flexible, paid

Blue Arrow Catering - Oxford

Waiter/Waitress Premium
N1, North London
From £8 to £10 per hour Service Charge & Benefits

Camino Leisure Holdings Ltd

Waiter/Waitress Featured
W1G, West London
From £9 to £10 per hour


Senior Waiter/Waitress Premium

But like everything, as 50% of entertainment media is American it would be understood, if not spoken.

Server/Waiter/Waitress - TRG Concessions Southend Airport Premium
SS2, Southend-On-Sea
Up to £9.00 per hour plus tips

All of these job listings are from: https://www.caterer.com/jobs


In my experience, "server" is an American term, not a British term. The reason seems to be that the Americans distinguish between a "server" taking dishes to you, and a "bus-boy" taking dishes away from you. British English does not have "bus-boy", a "waiter/ess" is a job that combines "server" and "bus-boy".

  • 1
    I'm not certain, but in my experience it's normal in the US for a server to also take finished dishes away during or after a meal. "bus-boy" is a word I'm aware of, but I can't recall a single time I've seen a separate person just for removing dishes. Jul 23, 2018 at 13:37
  • 1
    Odd If you are observant you will see it often in the UK.
    – WendyG
    Jul 23, 2018 at 13:48
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    @KamilDrakari US also has bus-staff (in restaurants with more staff or fancier restaurants), but usually the server also removes the dishes if the customers are still at the table when the dishes are removed. The bus-staff comes along later and takes any remaining dishes and wipes the tables down. You can usually tell because the bus-staff usually have a plastic bin to hold dishes and cleaning cloths. Probably it has something to do with tipping culture, that the server is customer facing but less so bus-staff. Jul 23, 2018 at 13:54
  • 2
    In typical US use "server" is a broad term that can refer to any waitstaff, whether they're taking orders, bringing food, taking it away, etc. Jul 23, 2018 at 15:06

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