Waiters, also known as servers, take restaurant customers’ orders, deliver beverages, relay the information to the kitchen for food preparation and serve the customers’ food when it is ready. Servers can work part-time or full-time, and may be required to work holidays, weekends or nights. Becoming a server does not require a college education, and most employers do not require prior experience. Tips are a major part of a waiter’s salary, though they also get an hourly wage.

National Salary Averages:

Bureau of Labor Statistics data for May 2011 show that the national average wage for servers was $10.05 per hour. This equates to an annual average salary of $20,890. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned no more than $7.73 an hour, while the highest paid 10 percent earned at least $14.34 per hour.


Nearly 77 percent of all servers were employed by full-service restaurants, according to the BLS, and earned an average hourly wage of $9.93 as of May 2011. At restaurants located adjacent to or inside of hotels, motels and other accommodations for travelers, servers averaged $11.87 per hour. Servers at clubs or bars earned a mean wage of $10.81 per hour.

States with Highest Average Salaries:

Location played an important factor in the wages of servers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among states and the District of Columbia, servers earned the highest average wage, $14.06, in D.C. The average hourly wage for servers in Washington and Massachusetts was $13.94 and $13.27, respectively. In Vermont, servers averaged $12.58 per hour, and in Oregon, they averaged $12.37 per hour.

Tip Credit:

Employers are required to pay a federal minimum wage to workers. It is a common practice in the restaurant industry to claim a tip credit against the minimum wage requirement. This means the employer can pay waiters a cash wage of less than the minimum hourly rate. The server’s tips are credited as being part of earnings to satisfy the minimum wage laws. The employer must allow tipped employees to retain the tips earned.

States Not Permitting Tip Credits:

Federal law allows employers to pay servers as little as $2.13 an hour in cash wages. However, some states do not permit the use of a tip credit, and employers in those states must pay waiters at least the minimum wage. Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada all have laws forbidding the use of tip credits. In Alaska, employers must pay waiters at least $7.75 per hour, and in California, the hourly minimum pay rate is $8. Oregon law mandates a minimum rate of $8.80 per hour, and the minimum in Washington is $9.04. Nevada’s statute allows a two-tier pay structure. If the employer provides the employee with health insurance benefits, the minimum hourly rate is $7.25. If no health insurance is provided, the employer must pay servers at least $8.25 an hour. In Montana, the cash wage for servers must be at least $4 per hour if the business has gross annual sales that do not exceed $110,000. If sales are in excess of that amount, the employer cannot take a tip credit and must pay waiters at least $7.65 an hour.

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