How much does a waiter in the US earn per hour: what is the average salary?
Service jobs are some of the most widely held in the United States but workers in many states can legally be paid less than a typical minimum wage.
Online jobs site Indeed found that being a ‘server’ - i.e. working in a restaurant or bar - was the third most common job in the United States. The restaurant industry took a hit during the pandemic but, although staffing numbers are still down, it provides work for millions of Americans.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the mean annual wage of a waiter or waitress in 2021 was $29,010. This works out at $13.95 per hour on average.
However the exact figures vary greatly depending on the employee’s experience and the part of the country where the job is. As a general rule, areas with wealthier customers are able to charge more for goods and services and are more likely to pay their staff more.
The BLS data found that the bottom 10% of wait staff earned less than $8.59 per hour, while the top 10% could expect to earn more than $22.
Typical wages are also based in part on the industry sector that you are working in. The BLS lists five subcategories of waiting staff and their average hourly and annual wages.
|Type||Percentage of toal industry employment||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage|
|Restaurants and other eating places||16.2%||$13.93||$28,970|
|Special food services||5.7%||$15.69||$32,640|
|Other recreation industries||5.1%||$13.80||$28,710|
Restaurants struggle to recover post-pandemic
The covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown rules had a catastrophic effect on the hospitality sector. Restaurants in particular have been struggling to replace hundreds of thousands of work who were forced to find new work in 2020.
In May 2022 the National Restaurant Association announced that the industry was still down by around 750,000 jobs on pre-pandemic levels. The challenge of re-staffing a stressful and often unpredictable industry is proving difficult and workers in some states are paid well below the minimum wage.
In all but seven states - Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -employers are allowed to pay “subminimum” wages to staff, provided that their tips bring their earnings up to the required levels. For some, this can mean that their employer pays as little as $2.13 an hour. New York Times economists estimate that more than 5 million workers are currently being paid on that basis.
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