Waiting tables is one of the most common occupations in the United States. There are 2.5 million waiters and waitresses nationwide, often working for low wages and customer tips. Earning $11.07 per hour, the average waitperson takes home $23,020 a year.
In large metropolitan areas and popular tourist towns, waiters can earn far more. To find where servers in the United States earn the most, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the 10 best cities for waiters and waitresses.
Many food service professionals are paid minimum wage. In some states, employers can be on the hook for as little as the $2.13 an hour minimum wage for tipped employees. If tipped workers do not receive enough in tips to meet the normal $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, employers are held responsible to make up the difference.
Almost all of the 10 best cities for waiters and waitresses are in Washington and California, where businesses must pay their tipped employees at least $11 an hour and $10.50 an hour, respectively — the two highest minimum wages of any state. Waiters in the Seattle metro area, which in 2014 became the first major U.S. city to pass a $15 minimum wage into law, earn more on average than waiters in all but three cities.
Because waiters and waitresses earn part of their wages through gratuity, they tend to earn the most in cities where goods and services cost more in general. In eight of the 10 cities with the highest wages for waiters and waitresses, the average cost of living is at least 5% higher than it is nationwide. While the high cost of goods and services means waiters will earn larger tips on more expensive meals, it also means their own earnings will be worth less.
For example, in the New York metro area, the mean annual wage for waiters and waitresses of $29,290 is higher than the $23,020 national average. The price of goods and services in the city is 22% higher than it is nationwide, however, and waiters therefore may be able to afford less than those in other parts of the country. Adjusted for the city’s high cost of living, the real annual wage of New York waiters and waitresses is just $22,758, lower than the national figure.
Servers also earn the most in cities where residents are wealthy and restaurants see a lot of business. In seven of the 10 best cities for waiters and waitresses, the average accommodation and food services establishment generates roughly $70,000 per employee or more, far more than the $58,974 average national figure. When restaurants generate more revenue per employee, the waitstaff likely earns more in tips.
To determine the 10 best cities for waiters and waitresses, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2015. Annual wages are calculated as the product of hourly mean wage and the year-round, full-time figure of 2,080 hours. For cost of living, we considered regional price parity for 2014. We also reviewed GDP by industry for 2015 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and median household income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. Average business revenue also came from the U.S. Census Bureau and is for 2012. All data are for the latest year available.
These are the 10 best cities for waiters and waitresses.