Waiters are the customer service arm of the food and beverage industry – literally, with the trays of food and drinks they carry from kitchen to customers’ tables. They take orders, convey them to the kitchen and deliver the completed dish to the table. They also clean the dining area, respond to customer queries and take payment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the mean annual salary for a waiter working in the United States was $20,790, as of May 2010. This equates to an hourly pay rate of $9.99. Those waiters among the highest-earning 10 percent earned salaries in excess of $29,980, which translates to a wage of over $14.41 per hour. Most waiters work in full-service restaurants, according to the bureau’s figures, in which the mean yearly wage was $20,600. Individuals working in traveler accommodation – hotels, resorts – earned more, a mean of $24,200, while in limited-service eating places, the wage was $18,680 per year.
Besides their basic wage, waiters also earn money from customer tips. On average, tipping etiquette sees customers leave 10 to 20 percent of the check as a tip. These either go directly to the waiter who served that particular customer, or are collected into a shared pool which is then distributed evenly among all waiting and other dining room staff, such as busboys and bartenders. Waiters can earn more from tips than they do from their basic salary.
Waiters typically work shifts, corresponding with the busy mealtimes of lunch and dinner, and can work weekends and public holidays. The food service profession also has a large proportion of part-time positions. Waiting therefore offers flexibility to individual workers, allowing them to work around other commitments, such as child care and other employment.
Waiters get to interact with many different kinds of people. Because they earn a large proportion of their income through tips, there is the added incentive that if they do their job well, they will be (hopefully) rewarded well for their efforts by the customer. It is also a profession open to a wide variety of people, as there are no specific education requirements to enter the business, and training is given on the job. Waiters may earn promotions to food service supervisor or manager, which will entail a raise in salary.
Waiting can be a physically demanding job, with individuals on their feet for much of their shift, and lifting trays of food items. (An alternative way of looking at this is that the profession provides an on-the-job workout.) When working evening shifts, they may not finish until late into the night.
2016 Salary Information for Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
Food and beverage serving and related workers earned a median annual salary of $19,710 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, food and beverage serving and related workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $18,170, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $22,690, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 5,122,500 people were employed in the U.S. as food and beverage serving and related workers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010 – Waiters and Waitresses
- StateUniversity.com: Waiter Job Description
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
- Career Trend: Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 - 35-3011 Bartenders.” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 - 35-3031 Waiters and Waitresses.” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Labor. “What is the minimum wage?” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Minimum Wages | 2020 Minimum Wage by State.” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Labor. “Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Labor. “Fact Sheet #15: Tipped Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Bartenders.” Accessed June 24, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. “Are Tips Taxable? IRS Offers ‘Tips’ on Tips.” Accessed June 24, 2020.
Dirk Huds has been a writer/editor for over six years. He has worked for bookshops and publishers in an editorial capacity and written book reviews for a variety of publications. He is currently studying for his master's degree.