In a comment on this question, the term "server" is used to refer to the guy working at the register in a pizza restaurant. I have never heard this usage before (in Australia), and was only able to guess the intended meaning from the context. Is this a US term?

I would refer to him as the cashier or, if I was eating at the restaurant and he brought the pizza to the table, the waiter.

  • PC terms became important to Americans following the Women's Lib movement during the second half of the 20th century
    – user61860
    Jan 10 '14 at 10:48

I have a feeling it is entirely because of the gender-neutral issue. When referring to a male who serves you food, "waiter" is entirely appropriate. Similiarly, "stewardesses", along with being the longeset English word typed with only the left hand on a standard keyboard, is approriate for female flight attendants. However, when referring to an unknown person doing this job, it is considered (in the US, at least) more appropriate to use a gender-neutral term, as "waitress" does no apply to men.

Example airplaine usage:

For service, please press this button. A flight attendant will come by to assist you.

Saying "stewardess" here implies that in every case, you will be assisted by a female attendant.

Americans place an (excessive) empahasis on being politically correct, and go out of their way not to say/do anything that might offend a stranger, or, especially, an employee. You can sue people for just about anything these days, so businesses are cautious to be as non-offensive as possible.


"Server" became more common than "waiter" as food service models began to move away from the traditional sit-down restaurant. There are many business models for restaurants now where it is not the job of the staff to "wait on" their customers in the traditional sense; the restaurant may not provide any table-side service, or may only deliver food and bus tables, not take orders or handle money. As those models of food service became more common in the U.S., the term bled back into "full-service" establishments.

Even the model of a "full-service" restaurant has changed a bit over the years; restaurants used to have a higher waitstaff/guest ratio, but in your average "family restaurant" it's cost-prohibitive to have too many people literally "waiting" on their guests. So, the waitstaff is streamlined, and as a result the service is necessarily less attentive (with more people per server, only the very best can be as attentive with 6 or 8 tables as they would with, say, 4).

"Server" is also gender-neutral by its nature. The fact that there is a difference in gender between "waiter" and "waitress" makes the latter terms less desirable in the highly-PC U.S. culture.

  • 3
    I have the impression that the change was driven by the desire for a gender-neutral term, not by changes in the job. I don't have a source, though, other than having lived through it. :-) Nov 8 '11 at 15:53
  • Interesting hypotheses, but food service models have also changed in Australia without a resultant change in terminology. The gender-neutral theory sounds more plausible, but I'm unsure why "waiter/waitress" is considered to be not PC.
    – sml
    Nov 8 '11 at 16:04
  • 2
    It's not PC simply because you have to differentiate between man and woman, thus inferring that there is a difference between the roles based on gender. It's like how "congressman" and "congresswoman" became "congressperson".
    – KeithS
    Nov 8 '11 at 16:06
  • 1
    Americans are obsessed with sex, and we're simultaneously obsessed with ignoring sex. Americans have invented a large number of "gender neutral" occupational titles to replace ones that have separate male and female forms. Like "flight attendant" to replace "steward/stewardess", "police officer" to replace "police man/police woman", "firefighter" to replace "fireman" (not sure that there was a term for "fire woman"), "meterologist" to replace "weatherman", etc.
    – Jay
    Nov 8 '11 at 17:04
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    People who use "PC" tend to see PC everywhere, its like a hammer in search of nails. Consider the alternate hypothesis wherin "server" requires no a priori knowledge or assumption of the gender of the referent.
    – horatio
    Nov 8 '11 at 20:06

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