How Much Money Do Waiters Typically Make?

Although the importance of waiters can be overlooked, without them food and drink industry wouldn't function nearly as seamlessly. In fact, their absence would likely lead to hangry arguments, wasted meals, and a lack of profits. According to the United States Census Bureau, there were over 579,000 eating and drinking locations across the country prior to the pandemic. So it's no surprise that a vast amount of wait staff, around 2 million people, were required to support them.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that waiters have a huge amount of responsibilities to ensure the experience of customers is as enjoyable as possible, including taking orders, maintaining a clean eating environment, and offering knowledge about the venue's menu items. So, when it comes to one of the more critical factors of the job, the salary, these staffers do not want to feel undervalued. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage of waiters was $11.42 an hour, or $23,740 a year in 2020. However, some workers were earning as much as $20.46 an hour, or $42,550 a year, or as little as $8.42 each hour, or $17,520 a year at that time. With those figures in mind, let's take a look at how well different dining sectors and companies pay their staff.

Waiters at well-known dining chains often receive low pay

Big-name dining brands, including the likes of TGI Fridays, Waffle House, and Red Lobster, often appeal to customers looking for relatively cheap and convenient places to eat. However, waiters undoubtedly working hard to achieve the best service for customers and companies alike are not always greatly financially rewarded.

Popular for its breakfast snacks, Waffle House opts to pay its waiting staff an average of $13.06 an hour, according to data compiled by Indeed (or roughly $27,337 annually, details Glassdoor). Achieving a slightly lower hourly wage are servers at Denny's, who according to CareerBliss are only reimbursed at about $12 an hour ($25,000 a year). Meanwhile, TGI Fridays reports that its servers can expect to be paid between $8 and $12 an hour, with Indeed estimating that average pay stands at $11.07. The similar pay theme continues with Sonic (which Glassdoor estimates contributes $10 an hour to the salary of its waiters), and Red Lobster (reputed to pay $12 per hour, according to Glassdoor).

Despite some surprisingly low wages, several brands prove that working for a big name doesn't necessarily mean higher wages cannot be achieved. Indeed reports that servers at Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub can expect to take home $23.80 an hour, a figure that is substantially greater than those offered by the titans of industry above. Of course, those companies may well offer rewards for work in the form of benefits (Denny's, for instance, lists employee benefits as health insurances, flexible working times, food discounts, and more). Applebee's provides serving staff with $14.67 an hour ($28,611 annually, reports Talent), while Miller's Ale House forks out an average of $18.83 for its waiters, details Indeed. Outback Steakhouse is reported by Indeed to provide hourly payments of $17.72.

Glassdoor notes that its salary estimates include tips.

Pay is consistently higher for waiters in upscale restaurants

Customers probably expect to receive perfect products and superior service from upscale restaurant brands, and research indicates that waiters in such establishments can acquire equally thoughtful wages. The Capital Grille is one of these companies, with servers earning an hourly average of $23 (equating to a yearly total of $48,000, according to CareerBliss). These higher figures are backed by Indeed, which believes servers can earn up to $65,256 every year (and Indeed reckons even an assistant server can make $38,597 every 12 months). Maybe part of the wage hike is to do with responsibilities: The Capital Grille states that servers will have all of the regular waiting responsibilities, but there is emphasis on "high standards" and "exceptional service."

Hillstone is reported to be similarly rewarding – Glassdoor estimates that servers usually earn $49,323 annually (or $218 a day, notes Indeed). Elsewhere, The Melting Pot is said to pay its waiting staff $15.59 an hour (via Indeed), or the equivalent of $32,219 according to Glassdoor's analysis. Lower down the pay scale, waiters at P.F. Chang's can expect to be rewarded with pay of $16.09 an hour (via Indeed), while at Bonefish Grill their salary could be $26,746 a year (per Indeed).

At Truluck's, Indeed reports a whopping server salary of $48,785 a year — yet, according to Truluck's recruitment website, pay is only $5.54 an hour. It does, however, mention the addition of tips, which is likely where the extra money comes from. The Independent calculates that tips should be 20% of the bill, so servers at more prestigious chains have a greater chance of receiving bigger salary boosts as a result of higher prices.

Glassdoor's salary figures include tips on these accounts as well.

Server pay varies between hotel chains

The importance of waiters in hotels should not be underestimated. If anything, these workers face the intense prospect of having to live up to the high expectations of demanding guests. The pay of waiters at Hilton should be very effective at softening the blow, however (according to data compiled by Glassdoor). Its figures show that Hilton waiting staff can expect to take home an overall average of $42,383. Competitors don't seem to be far behind. Waiters at Hyatt Hotels can expect to achieve an hourly payment of $21 (according to Glassdoor), while at Marriott International Glassdoor's expectation is that server pay is usually around $17 an hour.

Despite Crowne Plaza Hotels recording a $14-an-hour ($30,000-a-year) salary for its servers on CareerBliss, Indeed is less optimistic, believing that an annual wage of just $28,311 is achieved. However, Crowne Plaza admits in a job advertisement on the recruitment website that pay can be as low as $12 an hour (but is encouraging about the addition of tips). Scoring comparatively worse is Best Western, which Indeed estimates pays its serving staff just $12.14.

A certain positive is that wages for waiting staff have increased consistently, research by U.S. News reveals. Not only does this suggest that servers are valued employees of businesses, it also provides hope that pay could improve across the sector, allowing a fairer distribution of salaries. If all else fails, the data shows the five states where waiting staff earn the most money. So, if you really want to invest in a job as a waiter, Hawaii, Columbia, Washington, New York, and Arizona are the places to head to.