Waiters and waitresses, often referred to as servers, take orders from customers and serve them food and drink. Many servers earn less than the minimum hourly wage and rely almost exclusively on tips for customers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 2,289,010 waiters and waitresses were employed in the United States as of May 2011.
National Wage Statistics:
Because the rate of hourly pay earned by waitresses tends to fluctuate, all statistics reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are averages. As of May 2011, the average of all hourly rates of pay for servers was $10.05, and the median wage reported was $8.93. Half of all waitresses reported average hourly wages of between $8.25 and $10.61. The lowest-paid 10 percent of servers earned an average of $7.73 per hour or less, while the highest-paid 10 percent of servers reported average hourly wages of $14.34 or more.
Pay by Employment Sector:
As of May 2011, most waiters and waitresses were employed at full-service restaurants and earned an average of $9.93 per hour. Those working at limited-service restaurants reported an average hourly wage of $9.03, and those working at drinking establishments such as bars averaged $9.43 per hour. Waitresses employed at other amusement and recreation facilities averaged $10.81 per hour, and those employed at restaurants connected to hotels averaged $11.87 per hour.
Pay by Area:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, waiters and waitresses working in the District of Columbia earned an average hourly wage of $14.06, higher than those in any other state. Other high-paying states for servers included Washington, at $13.94; Massachusetts, at $13.27; Vermont, at $12.58; and Oregon, at $12.37. The highest-paying metropolitan area for servers was the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area of Washington, with an average hourly wage of $14.87. Servers working in northern Vermont reported the highest average wage of any non-metropolitan area, $14.19 per hour.
Variations in Pay:
Because waitresses rely on gratuities for the bulk of their income, pay can fluctuate significantly between shifts. Servers may earn little on some days and a lot on others. In general, the servers who can treat their customers politely and provide efficient service will earn more per hour. Because most customers tip as a percentage of their meal cost, servers working at upscale establishments tend to earn the highest hourly wages.