Highest-Paying Restaurant Jobs (Plus the Lowest-Paying)

How much do servers, dishwashers, pastry chefs, and more actually bring in?


More than a decade ago, I took a job as a server at a branch of a steakhouse conglomerate in rural North Carolina, where, for $2.13 an hour plus tips (including some insightful hand-scrawled notes in lieu of dollars), I waited tables and swept up piles of broken peanuts. The steakhouse has seen some changes over the years (eventually, busted peanuts make for busted floors). The pay, it turns out, has not.

The rate of $2.13 an hour — also known as federal subminimum wage, or the standard base pay for waitstaff in many states — hasn’t budged a penny in 20 years. Even if you work full-time, that amount obviously won’t pay the bills. So how much are servers actually able to bring in these days? How do their wages stack up against those of other restaurant employees?

It's hard to pin down accurate figures for servers. For instance, no IRS-er ever tallied the coupon someone once gave me as a tip, or, more significantly, the mass of free or discounted meals I ate on the job. Cash tips, it will not surprise you, aren't always accurately reported either (though the IRS does monitor reported gratuity income and an alarm goes off if the amount is suspiciously low). But scanning figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, trade journals, job boards, and a number of surveys provide some insight into what the food and beverage industry takes home.

According to a 2010 report conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, I would have been better off driving north to the District of Columbia, which currently ranks as the highest paying state for waitstaff. The mean wage there is said to be a $14.30 per hour, including tips. Better yet, maybe I should have tried my hand at tending bar.

Here's what other food-service employees make (salary ranges given are annual for full-time positions, hourly for jobs that are usually part-time).

Click here for Highest Paying Restaurant Jobs Slideshow.


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I spent a dozen years part-timing and moonlighting as a server in several different restaurants. For people who ask why the restaurant doesn't pay servers a living wage, and do away with tipping, you'll see why if you ever work as a sales rep.

If YOU hire all salaried sales reps, and I hire all straight-commission sales reps, whom do you think will provide your clients better service, and whom do you think will earn far more money?

For an awful lot of the dining public, the ONLY time anyone is nice to them is when they're dining out, and their tip is the reason. That gives them enormous power to decide their server's income. You replace tipping with livable salaries, and there's no longer the incentive to "kiss ass", put up with ignoramuses, and stand there and just take it when someone's had a bad day someplace else.

Replace your serving staff's tips with salaries, and your very best servers, who enjoy the unlimited earnings potential of (effectively) straight tips, will leave for greener pastures, and you'll be stuck with people who belong behind a desk at the DMV or county tax office, relying on their guaranteed livable wage.

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I am a server at a family restaurant near the beach-so it is filled with tourist in the summertime. At the restaurant I work at I get paid $2.13 an hour, I make coffee, tea, cut up cucumbers, cut up onions, make all of the side salads, house salads, speciality salads, and more. Serving isn't just taking an order and making sure you write it down correctly. I also have sidework at the end of the night to do. So after I'm "cut" from serving I am still at the restaurant cleaning for an hour and half before I can leave. Serving is a great job and tipping 18-20% is the norm now and when people tip less for excellent service or ignorance of what goes on, this affects servers. When servers get great tips we talk about how great this tip and the person who tipped are. Also, we do not get to keep all of the money from tips, a major misconception among non - restaurant employees. We tip out money to the food runner(s), bartender(s), bus person(s) (people who wipe the tables-we prebus as much as possible), etc...

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Twenty years ago is a legitimate time table for the existence of the $2.13 hourly wage of servers. When I served 18 years that was my pay which really stinks when you have stretches of 'dead' days and apparently duties have not changed. Indeed we set up, cleaned up, bussed our own tables, prepped our plates, ran our own food, made salads, did side work, made the coffee, got things ready for the following day, folded napkins or rolled the silverware depending upon the establishment, and the list could go on!

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Questions:
Should restaurants pay minimum wage, with raises going to the competent servers, and end tipping? What would that do to dining?
What about waiters working the same way as cab drivers? Renting their sections and keeping all of their tips…how would that change the dining experience?

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I've read a few of the comments on this page, and I just wanted to take a minute to throw in a few of my thoughts. I've been waiting tables at PF Changs for the past 5 years to get through the bachelors and masters degrees. Often times, it can be a lot of fun, and it's very flexible, which I needed as a full-time student. But as much as I hate to say it, the truth is that over the years, it has made me a much more cynical human being.

In 5 years, my absolute worst shift was when I worked like 6 hours and made only $40. But on my best shift, I worked a double, 13 hours, and made almost $500. The money can be very inconsistent at times, but on average, it's good. Unfortunately, it's in our nature to remember bad things before we remember good things. That's why whenever I think about work, it's hard for me not to remember all the inconsiderate people I've come across over the years.

Just last week, I waited three people. They came out, had a really nice lunch, and spent $100 between the three of them. I gave them excellent service. I know I did, because first of all, they told me so, and second of all, they were my last table that shift, so I was entirely focused on them. When the bill came, they gave me their PF Changs Warrior Card, which discounts the meal 10%. Then they gave me a $35 dollar gift card. They put the balance of $55 on their credit card. They thanked me again, and left. When I opened the book, I saw that they left me a $7 tip.

Those are the types of things I will remember unfortunately. I've met a lot of really cool and really nice people. For example, I've been lucky enough to wait on Randy Travis, and he left me $40 on a $110 check. But I can't get over people like the one's I mentioned in the prior paragraph. I agree that tipping should not be an automatic. If you come in to eat, and I give you bad service, or do something to create a negative dining experience for you, I will not be upset when you leave me a bad tip. Honestly, things happen and sometimes I make mistakes. But the vast majority of the time, I give excellent service. It's my job, and I've gotten very good at it. So it bothers me when I know I gave excellent service, and I get a terrible tip.

So that's my simple philosophy on tipping. Yes, it's not automatic. As a server, I don't feel like I'm entitled to a 20% tip at every single table, regardless of the experience I create for my guests. But tipping IS a reward for good service, and I just wish everyone would treat it as such. But so many people come out to eat with the intention of leaving a bad tip regardless of what kind of service they get. And that is what truly bothers me.

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I rarely eat out anymore because it is just too expensive for me to do so. To leave a tip in addition to what I have to pay for the meal means I would either have to order something cheaper or leave out my coffee or tea or soda.

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My son use to work in a restaurant not as a wait staff but as a bus boy. His job as a bus boy included serving the bread, taking, serving and refilling their drinks, serving the food and cleaning the table after they left. Notice as a bus boy the only thing he did not do was take their order and give them their bill...that was what the waitress did and she got all the tips. He was paid less than minimun wage and many customers actually thought he was their waiter cause he always made sure they were taken care of.

However, I also have a story that happened to my aunt (way back in the day) and she was paid 2.13 an hour as a waitress. A fellow waitress and she would work take orders, refill drinks and work very hard. There came a time when a new busboy started to work and my aunts(and others) tips came to a stop. My aunts regulars started to ask my aunt if she got the money for her tip and she said no. Through some careful observations and customers they noticed that the busboy was taking all the money from the tables she was cleaning and keeping it. The solution: The waitresses started working together. If they noticed that a table just left (and that waitress was busy) they would take the money and give it to that waitress that waited on that table. They would also try to be very diligent to get to their tables before the busboy did. The customers also started hand delivering the tips to the waitresses. The busboy ended up quitting cause she wasn't bringing home 200.00 or so a day not including her salary.

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Servers really get screwed when it comes to the IRS. I've served and bar tended all the way through two B.A. degrees and still do, half-way through my masters program. At my job, the total sales for the day are divided up among all the servers and are earnings are reported as 18% of the total sales. Most Friday and Saturday nights this is how it breaks down. Five servers all make have about 1000 in sales for a grand total of 5000 in sales. First tip out the bar 2% (-100), host 1.5% (-75) manager who booked a private party that night 2% of party sales (20), and dish .5% (25) for a grand total of $220. IF everyone tipped 20% that means 1000-220 = 780, divided by 5 servers for $156. That is good money for an 8 hour shift. Consider a few points however. First someone comes in 10 minutes before the restaurant closes and keeps the entire restaurant staff there for 1.5-2 additional hours bring your wage down to 15/hour. Next, the IRS is assuming you are making 18% which you are already well below so knock off a bit more. Add in the fact, that we all know there are plenty of people who did not tip close to 20% and you quickly realize the take-home goes down significantly.

I am not complaining as I would not have been able to make it through school without the flexibility a restaurant job offers. I work at a very nice restaurant and often will have a check close to $100/person which seems awesome when you have a group of 5 or so at one table. However, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who actually comment as they are writing my tip that the server is "doing well tonight". Restaurants have crazy rules and I have really appreciate the people who actually ask me how tipping works at that particular establishment, have bought me a drink at the bar (because no, I don't drink for free), or have complemented me to the manager. When something goes wrong it is very rarely our fault but we are always the one it is taken out on, which is unfortunate. It is important to remember that serving is a job unique in its flexibility both in scheduling and moving to new places but that doesn't mean it should be disrespected as a job. Or that servers should not be given a tip because they have 'chosen' that job. Please tip 20%.

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I have waitressed, I have worked fast food, I have worked retail. When I did waitress I made 2.13 an hour, I cleaned my own tables, and there was no tip share...we helped each other when it was needed. These companies that make you tip share with people making minimum is BS. As far as getting yelled at for the food (if you deliver your food to your own tables) surely you can see if there is a problem you took the order right? If they said no onion and there are onions??? Seriously. If your a server in Florida and you are not making at least 4.23 an hour you need to check your bulletin board at work because "According to the State of Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, as of January 24, 2009, the minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers is $4.23 per hour." It may be more than that now though.

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Where I live, the combined sales tax is nearly 10 percent. The average entre is between 7and ten dollars. So with a drink, the bill is between 10 and 12 dollars PLUS 30 percent making the final cost of eating a meal out between $13 and $15.60. Around here, 10 to 15 dollars per hour is good pay so you're talking about over an hour's PRETAX wages. Servers need to remember that customers work just as hard for their money and are willing to tip to have a good dining experience. However, just because the owners are unwilling to pay a decent wage, it is not the responsibility of the customer to make up the difference. A gratuity, by definition, reflects gratitude for good service, not ANY service, GOOD service. While its true that there are those customers who, for various reasons won't leave a tip, in ten years as a bartender in all imaginable venues, I found that most do if the server really makes the effort to put the customer's satisfaction ahead of his/hers (the server's). Nothing is more irritating to a customer that to register a legitimate complaint to a manager only to receive an excuse about the server' s personal problems. Tips are NOT automatic. Management should be required to pay minimum wage.

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I deliver pizzas and get paid 4.35 an hour plus tips plus $1.00 per delivery for gas. I can only do 3 maybe 4 deliveries an hour. I have to use my own car. I have to pay for all maintenance and repairs and tire and battery replacement. For this I receive no money from the company. The average tip is $3.00. Some will not tip at all and others will give less. Thank goodness for those that appreciate the service and will tip more. I get scheduled 3 to 4 hours in the evening for the dinner rush which will result in 8 to 12 deliveries. Gasoline is $3.60 per gallon and the average miles for a delivery is 8 to 10 miles. It is a stressful job as delivers are generally made within 30 minutes of the call from the customer. There have been many nights in which 3 to 4 deliveries do not result in a tip. I have worked in customer service for many years and know how to talk to people respectfully. It is a job for which I am grateful to have though it does not make for anything more than paying the bills.

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Why are restaurants exempt from the minimum wage laws? All other businesses have to pay it. The argument is that it keeps dining out "affordable" but the truth is that it serves only to increase the profits of the owners. In Knoxville Tennessee there is a restaurant on every corner. In a nearby small town, in a county with not more than 40,000 people, there are 32 places to eat in a 2mile stretch of hwy. There aren't 32 hardware stores or 32 pharmacies or any other businesses in similar quantities. If restaurants weren't so profitable there wouldn't be so many of them. Other businesses would love to have their costs subsidized by their customers. Retail stores would love to pay their help $2.13/hr and expect their customers to "tip" to make up the difference. Why not? Surely a shoe salesman gives as much personal "service" as a waiter or any retail sales person for that matter. The restaurant industry must have an amazing lobby. I don't know, do other jobs that traditionally receive tips such as bellhops or valet parking attendants or skycaps only make sub minimum wages plus tips or is it only restaurants? Regardless the minimum wage is a burden inflicted on all other employers in this country and it should apply to all equally.

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I have not been waiting tables for very long, and I very much understand both sides of the argument for tipping. If someone does not give good service, then it is only fair that they do not recieve as good of a tip, but that does not mean that one should look at every error that the waiter makes and deduct. We are all human beings, and if you don't want to tip, you can certaintly find reasons not to. As for finding another job, have you considered the individuals who are perhaps putting themselves through school via waitressing? I would be willing to bet that there is a high percentage of waitstaff whom are going to college and are working very hard to do so. Even if the waiter is not very good, I believe tipping them just a few dollars is the polite and decent thing to do. I just got off work as a waitress and I love my job, but you can't imagine how upsetting it is, as a human being, to be treated poorly and not tipped, because a table simply did not deem your service good enough. But in the end, I know that what goes around will eventually come around. Many times I feel sorry for those who don't tip, because I assume that they simply weren't raised properly, or didn't have the money to do so, but that doesn't make it still frusturating that I busted my butt to work hard for you, and you didn't tip.

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those of us who work in the industry know what truely happens and servers make good money in good restaurants despite the minimum wage and tipping out the busboys and other staff members. I have a large staff and they make good money and too many like to complain at the end of the night. With all the people around to help them out to walk home making 20 hour is pretty good today.

At Your Service's picture

What do you consider good money? Because I don't consider $30 a night good money. Making $20 an hour is great - if you are scheduled more than 10 hours a week...

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At least Mcdonald's has a set wage that;s been raised many times in the past 20 years. If waitressing is so bad learn how to say the phrase...

At Your Service's picture

Your reply suggests that you do not work in any customer service industry - unfortunately for you customer service is the future...

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Boo Hoo Hoo. Get another job people.

At Your Service's picture

Again - if I could get another job - I would. Maybe you would like to give me yours?

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still haven't understood yet why the waitress gets the tip when all they do is pick up the food and take it to the table. In the kitchen we do all the work, prep,clean,plate, and present the food, which I think presentation is 80% of the job have been a cook in a small town and lovin it just dont get the deal......

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actually these days... most servers just take the orders, delivers food (SOMETIMES), make & take the coffee to the customers, delivers wine or drinks to the customer.. & sometimes reset their tables. its the busboys who runs MORE the food & resets the tables.

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WHY THE WAITRESS GETS THE TIP? WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE CUSTOMERS. WE TAKE THEIR ORDERS, KISS THEIR ASS, MAKE CONVERSATION, MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A PLEASANT EXPERIENCE. WE MAKE 2.13 AN HOUR AND WHEN THE KITCHEN MESSES UP WE HAVE HAVE TO LISTEN TO IT, DEAL WITH ITAND MAKE IT RIGHT. I AM NOT SAYING A COOKS JOB ISNT HARD. BUT WHEN WE ARE NOT BUSY YOU ARE STILL MAKING THE SAME HOURLY WAGE AND WE ARE STILL MAKING 2.13 AN HOUR. TRY PUTTING THE OTHER SHOE ON AND THEN TELL ME WHY YOU DONT UNDERSTAND WHY THE WAITRESS GETS THE TIP!!!

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With all due respect to your culinary efforts, the "sale" of your food is what makes the revenue. The server not only "takes it to the table", they should know the ingredients used in the dish (do you know how many allergies exist?), help the customer pair wines with their food, clean the table, do an abundant amount of sidework and suggestively sell the food and drink. This requires a hard worker with an abundance of knowledge as well as good accounting skills. I don't think a cook in a small town is equal to working at a restaurant in the big city, so I'll just imagine you are perhaps ignorant of all of the details involved. I enjoy good diner food so blessings to you, but it sounds like you need to treat yourself once in a while to a fine dining experience and evolve.

At Your Service's picture

Actually people will continue to eat in a restaurant with bad food as long as the service is good - so 80% of the job is service...
Also, being a cook in a small town is a vastly different experience than being a cook or server in the city. In a small town, you get to know your patrons and they get to know you. This creates a kind of bond similar to a friendship - and people are always more patient and forgiving of friends than they are of strangers. I think if you had to do both jobs for one night, you would probably change your opinion about the importance of a waitress.

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OK here is a scenario for everyone who hasn't worked in a restaurant as a server or bartender. You work at a very high volume, very casual tavern. The average cost per diner is around $10 for food. On a normal shift you sell around $1,000, and if you make 20% off every single customer, that's $200. Whoo-hoo!! Oh wait, lets not forget about that pesky tip out. That's $40 right off the bat that goes away. So now your down to $160. Not bad, right? Oh wait!!! Lets not forget about that 20-something couple that sat down arguing with each other. He probably forgot it was the 83rd day they had been dating and didn't plan anything special, so she is acting like a raving lunatic. Or lets say, she forgot to take her birth control and just broke the news that she MIGHT be pregnant, and while having sex with this over-analyzing, daddy issue infused slut is awesome, having a child with her is not. Either way, "Pissed off party of 2, your table is now available". OH how overjoyed you are that you were lucky enough to have them at your table. The entire time she sits there with her arms crossed and pouty-lipped, while the steroids he shot up just 30 mins ago, course through his veins, and both ignore you the whole time. Their salads arrive and oh look, neither the illiterate cook, nor the douche bag expo, or the barely able to speak english food runner noticed that the ticket clear as day said "No Onions". Guess what is covering the salad? Onions. Now juiced-up Jerry is all pissed and threatening to gut you like a pig b/c dumbasses #1-#3 can't comprehend simple English instructions. You very politely apologize and rush into the kitchen and order another salad, in fear that your entrails might end up as tomorrow's soup of the day. Within 5 minutes the new, correctly made salad is on the table and the Jose Conseco wannabe is fine. They continue to just completely ignore you the rest of the meal. When they finally do pay, guess what is on the tip line? $0. Now, at no point was any of this your fault. It was clearly a kitchen error. Yet, somehow you are held responsible. How do you feel? This is a common occurrence in restaurants. Customers come in, pissed off at their suck ass lives, and take it out on the employees. Like its somehow Miguel the dishwasher's fault that their uncle molested them 30 years ago. The industry standard tip is 18 - 20%. If you don't plan on tipping that amount, go enjoy a lovely meal at your local Hardee's. At least there, the other customers won't give you nasty looks b/c your children haven't bathed in 2 days and aren't wearing shoes, or that you look like the love child of the banjo kid from "Deliverance" and Charlaine Harris. Seriously... google her.

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With what you just said, I definitely do not want to eat where you work. By the way I am a good tipper precisely because your bosses refuse to pay a living wage. However this column has made me start to re-think how I tip. Unfortunately only some of the wait persons treat me with respect because I am an elderly black American woman. I worked on the wharf in San Franscico in my younger days. I heard many behind the scenes remarks, the ugliest of which came from a white male server who waited on a table of blacks who tipped him very generously. The comment, "Who does he think he is? The last of the big time tippers? What a fool." I just looked at him. After that I never tipped more than 15%. That was what was expected then. Now it's 20%.

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I find it funny about the people saying if you cant afford to eat out...from my experince the wealthy customers were notoriously poor tippers. and people who work for a living tipped much better.

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btw ... I work 2 jobs ... 1 as a server, the other a a bartender ... I have to pay full price for my food and alcohol ... the only freebie I get is coffee or soda ... even have to pay for milk or juice ... so sorry, we don't get free food. Some places will discount a meal or have an employees menu which you can guess is not good ... plus we have to work all holidays and weekends. I don't even get Thanksgiving or Christmas off at the bar ... so it's not all fun, believe me.

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Ok, most states legally servers get paid $2.13 and they don't have to pay more, so they won't. That goes to taxes and then some. Let me ask ... what other job lets the customers decide how much the employee should get paid ??? Do cashiers, dept. store salespeople, mechanics, plumbers, etc., do they take care of their customers and then hope they liked their work and will pay them accordingly ??? ... come on ... even hookers have a set wage and that's regardless of how good they are and you certainly won't get a discount or freebie if you're not satisfied. ;)

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my recurring nightmare is that my financial situation has reached such a state that I have had to go back to waitressing again; the nightmare is always the same -- I'm in a brand new job, no one has bothered to train me about how their system work, no one has told me a damn thing about the menu, the incomptent host staff has seated my entire station at once, I have 10 tables of irate people who are asking me questions about the menu I don't know, and everyone is pissed at me because I couldn't possibly get 10 tables their food and drink in a reasonable time frame if they're seated all at once. Make me break out in a cold sweat every time

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