With over 1.5 million workers in restaurants and other food-serving establishments, a waiter or waitress is one of the most popular occupations in the United States (U.S.).
In the text below, we break down the average waiter/waitress salary in major cities such as New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles.
We also examine the factors affecting annual pay in this role, including restaurant type, shifts, tip system and qualifications.
Finally, find out what differentiates a quality waiter/waitress from the hundreds of CVs that an HR manager receives, and read through our list of essential interview questions!
What Is the Average Waiter/Waitress Salary in the US?
The median salary of a Waiter/Waitress in the U.S. is between $27,000 and $31,000, according to the most recent data.
The bottom percentile earns around $18,250, while high earners across the country can receive around $55,360 per year. However, if they are employed in a bustling, upscale restaurant in Hawaii, for instance, income as a waiter/waitress can potentially hit $60,000 or more.
It is crucial to note that a waiter and waitress’s earnings depend heavily on tips, which are usually calculated as a percentage of the bill. Restaurants with higher prices on their menu, therefore, produce higher customer bills and, ultimately, larger gratuities.
In certain establishments, tips are calculated automatically and included in the bill, often at around 15%–20%. According to a 2022 study on tips, a “rude” server might still hope for a 6% tip, while a person who provides “perfect service” receives 20%.
What Is the Average Waiter/Waitress Salary in New York City?
Featuring an impressive 28,100 restaurants and 700 hotels, New York City is a global hotspot for gastronomes and travel enthusiasts alike.
In cozy cafes or upscale eateries that require reservations weeks in advance, waiters and waitresses in NYC have an abundance of options and many opportunities to earn a competitive income.
The average annual salary for a full-time waiter or waitress in New York City is between $32,000 and $36,000, excluding tips.
However, waiters and waitresses can potentially earn up to $100,000 per year, with tips included if they work busy shifts at top-tier restaurants.
What Is the Average Waiter/Waitress Salary in Miami?
Renowned for its picturesque white sand beaches, sunny climate and lively culinary landscape, Miami is home to more than 10,000 restaurants and 450 hotels.
A melting pot of numerous cultures from around the globe, Miami caters to any and all palates, offering abundant career prospects in the hospitality sector.
A full-time waiter or waitress in Miami can expect an average base salary between $26,000 and $30,000 per year, not including tips.
What Is the Average Waiter/Waitress Salary in Chicago?
Brimming with over 7,000 restaurants, the Windy City is a central destination for a diverse range of culinary businesses. A waiter or waitress can find work in a cozy coffee shop, a chic sushi bar, a bustling pizzeria, or an elegant AAA Diamond-rated or Michelin-starred restaurant.
Working at one of these establishments, a full-time waiter/waitress in Chicago can hope for an average between $28,000 and $32,000 per year, excluding tips.
What Is the Average Waiter/Waitress Salary in Los Angeles?
From high-end steakhouses to laid-back beach cafes, waiters/waitresses have ample opportunities to pursue their careers in one of the 24,000 restaurants in Los Angeles (L.A.).
Home of the rich and famous, L.A. offers a base salary between $31,000 and $35,000 to its waiters and waitresses, and that’s excluding tips.
What Factors Affect a Waiter/Waitress Salary?
The salary for working in a restaurant can vary greatly, depending on several key factors. These include:
1. Geographic Location
In bustling urban settings, there’s a greater demand for restaurant services, resulting in increased earning potential. More ample opportunities and higher compensations are, however, matched by soaring living expenses.
Still, while a waiter or waitress’s base salary may align with the cost of living in such areas, they can also aim for higher tips given the sheer volume of customers and higher menu prices.
2. Restaurant Type
Working at a high-end establishment will result in higher wages for most hospitality positions. However, this is even more pronounced for waiters and waitresses, who can receive extortionate tips from richer clients at luxury venues.
While the base salary may be similar between a coffee shop waiter and a five-star hotel waitress, tips and gratuities will have a strong sway on final earnings.
3. Shifts and Hours
If a waiter/waitress works during peak hours, such as evenings and weekends, they can expect more customers, and, therefore, higher tips. A typical shift for a waiter/waitress is usually around 5–8 hours long, with everything over 8 hours counting as overtime, depending on the state.
For instance, waitstaff in California could work up to 12 hours a day, and any work beyond 8 hours would be compensated at an overtime rate.
4. Individual Application
Performance on the job is another key factor that affects a waiter/waitress salary. If their service meets and even exceeds customers’ expectations, they may be more inclined to leave a generous tip.
Even in restaurants where the gratuity is calculated and included automatically, guests could choose to leave extra cash, just because they enjoyed the service.
How to Increase Your Waiter/Waitress Salary
A waiter or waitress’s chances of increasing their salary usually depend on tips, as the base salary rarely changes, even after years of work.
Factors that can help a waiter or waitress increase their tips include:
- Going above and beyond to provide excellent customer service
- Maintaining a friendly and positive attitude toward guests
- Working at a high-end restaurant where menu items are priced high
- Working during busy shifts
While tips depend exclusively on the worker’s performance and the guests’ goodwill, sometimes the waitstaff’s place in the staff hierarchy also plays a role.
A seasoned worker might get to serve the busiest tables, while newcomers might have to spend some time building trust before getting this opportunity.
In turn, working your way up the waiting ladder is a final option for increasing your waiter/waitress salary.
10 Top-Paying Companies for Waiters/Waitresses in the US
The highest paying employers for a waiter/waitress job in the U.S. include:
- BJ’s Restaurants, $41,000
- Outback Steakhouse, $40,000
- The Cheesecake Factory, $40,000
- Olive Garden Italian Restaurants, $39,000
- Denny’s, $38,000
- Nordstrom, $38,000
- Chipotle, $38,000
- Hyatt, $37,000
- Marriott International, $37,000
- Hilton, $37,000
Find the Best Waiter/Waitress Salary Opportunities With OysterLink
Our upcoming hospitality platform, OysterLink, connects candidates with various open positions in the restaurant industry, including waiter/waitress, bartender, chef, manager and more.
Our platform offers valuable resources such as job descriptions, salary information, interview questions and follow-up advice. We provide insights into the best-paying jobs in restaurants, hotels, resorts and more.