Salary Expectations for Restaurant Servers

February 25, 2023 · 15 min read

"Good servers don't just serve food, they serve happiness." - Unknown


The amount that a restaurant server earns can vary depending on a number of factors, such as location, type of restaurant, level of experience, and the amount of tips received. In the United States, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers such as servers is $2.13 per hour, although many states have higher minimum wages. However, servers typically earn additional income from tips, which can make up a significant portion of their overall compensation. Based on a 40-hour workweek, this equates to an annual income of approximately $23,750.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for servers in the United States was $11.42 as of May 2020, including tips. However, it's important to note that this is only a median and that many servers earn less than this amount. Additionally, the amount of tips a server earns can vary widely depending on factors such as the type of restaurant, the level of service provided, and the generosity of customers.

So the income of a restaurant server can vary widely based on the amount of tips earned. Some servers may earn significantly more than the median wage through tips, while others may earn less. Additionally, the amount of hours worked can vary depending on factors such as the time of year and the level of business at the restaurant.

Overall, being a restaurant server is typically not a high-paying job, but can offer other benefits such as flexible work hours, opportunities for advancement, and the ability to work in a fast-paced, social environment.

Factors influencing the amount of salary

The salary of a restaurant server can be influenced by a variety of factors, including

  1. Location: Servers in cities or areas with a higher cost of living may earn more in tips, as customers may be more likely to leave larger tips to account for higher living expenses.
  2. Type of restaurant: High-end restaurants or those with a strong reputation may attract more affluent customers who are willing to spend more money on meals, resulting in higher tips for servers.
  3. Level of experience: Experienced servers who have a track record of providing excellent service may earn more in tips than new servers who are still learning the ropes.
  4. Time of year: The level of business at a restaurant can vary depending on the time of year, with many restaurants experiencing a surge in business during the holiday season or during the summer months. This can result in more opportunities for servers to earn tips.
  5. Shifts worked: Some shifts, such as weekend evenings or holidays, may be more lucrative in terms of tips than others.

Overall, the amount of tips a server earns can vary significantly based on these and other factors. However, it's important to note that the salary of a server is typically not high and that the bulk of a server's income is typically earned through tips rather than base salary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2020, the top-paying states for restaurant servers based on mean hourly wage are:

  1. Hawaii: $17.18
  2. Massachusetts: $14.69
  3. District of Columbia: $14.47
  4. Vermont: $13.95
  5. Washington: $13.83

It's worth noting that these high-paying states also tend to have a higher cost of living than other states, which can affect how far a restaurant server's salary goes. Additionally, some restaurant servers may earn higher wages through tips or other incentives, so it's important to consider the full compensation package when evaluating the earning potential of a restaurant server role in a particular state.

Overall, it's important to do your research and consider multiple factors when evaluating the potential salary and job opportunities for restaurant servers in different states.


Interesting facts

Server jobs can be financially rewarding: While starting salaries for servers may be modest, servers can earn a substantial amount in tips, especially in high-end restaurants. According to the BLS, the median hourly wage for servers in 2020 was $11.42, but this can be significantly higher in restaurants where tipping is customary. Factors that influence the earnings

Ways to improve earnings

There are several strategies that restaurant servers can use to increase their salary, including

  1. Provide excellent service: One of the most effective ways to increase tips is to provide exceptional service. This can include being friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable about the menu and restaurant, as well as going above and beyond to meet the needs of customers.
  2. Build rapport with customers: Developing strong relationships with customers can lead to more repeat business and larger tips. This can be achieved by engaging in friendly conversation, remembering customers' names and preferences, and making personalized recommendations.
  3. Work at a high-end restaurant: Servers at high-end restaurants can earn more in tips due to the higher prices of menu items and the clientele that frequent such establishments.
  4. Work peak shifts: Servers who work during peak hours, such as weekend evenings or holidays, may have more opportunities to earn tips due to the higher volume of customers.
  5. Upsell: Encouraging customers to order additional items, such as appetizers, drinks, or desserts, can lead to a higher total bill and therefore larger tips.
  6. Maintain a positive attitude: Maintaining a positive attitude, even in challenging situations, can help servers build rapport with customers and earn their trust and respect.

Overall, the key to increasing salary as a restaurant server is to provide exceptional service, build strong relationships with customers, and take advantage of opportunities to earn more tips.

Last Trends in Restaurant Business

Focus on diversity and inclusion: Many restaurants are placing a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, including offering inclusive menus and creating welcoming environments for all customers. This has created a demand for servers who are comfortable working with diverse groups of people and can provide excellent service to all customers.

Additional benefits

In addition to earning tips, restaurant servers may also be eligible for various benefits, depending on their employer and employment status. Some potential benefits of working as a restaurant server may include

  1. Flexible scheduling: Many restaurants offer flexible scheduling to accommodate their employees' needs, which can be helpful for students, parents, or those with other commitments.
  2. Meal discounts or free meals: Some restaurants offer discounted or free meals to their employees, which can help to reduce living expenses.
  3. Health insurance: Full-time servers may be eligible for health insurance benefits, which can provide coverage for medical expenses.
  4. Paid time off: Some restaurants may offer paid time off for vacation or sick leave, which can provide a measure of financial security and work-life balance.
  5. Retirement savings plans: Some employers may offer 401(k) plans or other retirement savings options to their employees.
  6. Training and career development opportunities: Many restaurants offer training and development opportunities to their employees, which can help servers to gain new skills and advance their careers.

It's important to note that the availability and level of these benefits can vary depending on the employer and employment status of the server.


Health insurance

Restaurant servers may be offered a variety of health insurance options, depending on their employer and their employment status. Some potential health insurance options that may be available to restaurant servers include

  1. Employer-sponsored health insurance: Many restaurants offer health insurance plans to their employees, which may include medical, dental, and vision coverage. The level of coverage and the cost of premiums may vary depending on the employer.
  2. Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans: Servers who do not have access to employer-sponsored health insurance may be eligible to enroll in a health insurance plan through the ACA marketplace. The ACA offers a variety of plans with different levels of coverage and premiums, depending on the individual's income and other factors.
  3. Medicaid: Servers who meet certain income requirements may be eligible for Medicaid, a government-sponsored health insurance program that provides coverage for medical expenses.

It's important to note that health insurance availability and details can vary depending on the employer and the individual's circumstances. Servers should consult with their employer or a licensed insurance broker to learn more about their health insurance options and choose a plan that is appropriate for their needs and budget.


Interesting Facts

Some states and municipalities have set higher minimum wages for tipped employees. For example, in California, the minimum wage for tipped employees is the same as the regular minimum wage, which is $14 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees, and $13 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees. Additionally, some states may have different rules for calculating the minimum wage for tipped employees, so it's important for employers and employees to check their local laws and regulations.

Paid time off

Paid time off (PTO) is a benefit that some employers offer their employees, including restaurant servers. PTO is a type of leave that is paid, meaning the employee continues to receive their salary or wages while they are taking time off. The amount of PTO that a restaurant server is offered may vary depending on their employer, their job status (full-time, part-time, or seasonal), and their length of service with the company.

PTO can be used for a variety of purposes, such as vacation, personal or family illness, or personal business. When restaurant server takes PTO, they are typically able to continue to accrue their regular salary or wages, and in some cases, their benefits may continue to be active during their time off.

PTO can be an important benefit for restaurant servers, who may work long or irregular hours, and who may be required to work during weekends and holidays. Taking time off can help restaurant servers to manage their work-life balance, reduce stress, and avoid burnout. Some employers may also offer additional paid leave benefits, such as sick leave, bereavement leave, or parental leave.

It's important to note that PTO policies and procedures can vary between companies and jurisdictions. Restaurant servers should consult their employer's policies and human resources department to learn more about their specific PTO benefits, including how much time off they are entitled to, how to request PTO, and how much advance notice is required to use PTO.


Amazing Careers

Lady Gaga, the award-winning singer and actress, worked as a restaurant server in New York City before finding fame. She worked at a restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called the "Sea Grill," where she was responsible for taking orders, serving food, and interacting with customers. Gaga has spoken about her experience as a server in several interviews, describing it as a challenging job that required her to be on her feet for long hours. However, she has also credited her time as a server with helping her develop the work ethic and determination that she needed to succeed as a performer. Today, Gaga is one of the most popular and influential artists in the world, and her early experiences in the food service industry continue to inspire her work and shape her worldview.

Retirement saving plans

Restaurant servers may be offered a variety of retirement savings plans, depending on their employer and their employment status. Some potential retirement savings plans that may be available to restaurant servers include

  1. 401(k) plans: Many restaurants offer 401(k) plans, which allow employees to contribute a portion of their pre-tax income to a retirement savings account. Some employers may also offer matching contributions or other incentives to encourage participation.
  2. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs): Servers may also be eligible to contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA), which allows them to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis.
  3. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plans: Some employers may offer SEP plans, which allow employers to make contributions to their employee's retirement accounts.
  4. Simple IRA plans: Employers with fewer than 100 employees may offer a Simple IRA plan, which allows both employees and employers to contribute to a tax-deferred retirement savings account.

It's important to note that retirement savings plan availability and details can vary depending on the employer, and some plans may have eligibility requirements or contribution limits. Servers should consult with their employer or a financial advisor to learn more about their retirement savings options and choose a plan that is appropriate for their needs and goals.


Training and career development opportunities

There are a variety of training and career development opportunities available for restaurant servers, depending on the employer and the individual's career goals. Some potential opportunities may include

  • On-the-job training: Many restaurants offer on-the-job training to new servers, which may include instruction on the menu, the ordering system, customer service techniques, and other essential skills.
  • Upselling and product knowledge training: Restaurants may provide additional training on how to upsell menu items, how to describe and recommend different dishes, and how to provide exceptional service to customers.
  • Managerial and leadership training: Restaurant servers who aspire to advance their careers may be offered training on managerial and leadership skills, such as scheduling, managing a team, and financial management.
  • Cross-training in different areas of the restaurant: Some restaurants may offer cross-training opportunities for servers who are interested in learning about different areas of the restaurant, such as the kitchen, bar, or hosting.
  • Industry certification programs: Some professional organizations offer certification programs for restaurant servers, which can provide recognition of their skills and knowledge, and enhance their resume and career opportunities.

By taking advantage of these training and development opportunities, restaurant servers can gain new skills and knowledge, increase their value to their employers, and advance their careers within the restaurant industry.

Last Trends in Restaurant Business

Emphasis on sustainable practices: Many restaurants are now focused on reducing their environmental impact by using sustainable practices, such as composting, recycling, and reducing food waste. This has created a demand for servers who are knowledgeable about these practices and can communicate them to diners.


There are several types of bonuses that restaurant servers may be eligible for, depending on the policies of the restaurant and the server's job performance. Here are some common bonuses that may be offered to restaurant servers:

  1. Performance Bonus: This bonus is tied to the server's job performance, such as how many tables they can serve, how many dishes they can sell, and how much they can upsell to customers. The performance bonus can also include factors such as how many positive reviews or customer feedback they receive.
  2. Customer Satisfaction Bonus: This bonus is awarded to servers who receive positive feedback from customers, based on their professionalism, attentiveness, and the overall quality of service provided. This bonus is usually calculated based on the number of positive reviews a server receives.
  3. Sales Bonus: This bonus is tied to the server's ability to sell menu items, drinks, or promotions to customers. A sales bonus can be awarded based on how many sales a server makes or how much revenue they generate.
  4. Team Bonus: This bonus is awarded to a team of servers who work together to meet certain goals, such as serving a certain number of customers or hitting a revenue target. The bonus is usually divided equally among the team members.
  5. Referral Bonus: This bonus is awarded to a server who refers a new hire to the restaurant. The server receives the bonus once the referred employee has completed a certain period of employment.
  6. Holiday Bonus: This bonus is typically given to servers around the holiday season as a way of showing appreciation for their hard work during a busy time of the year. The bonus amount varies depending on the restaurant's policy.

Interesting facts

Medicaid covers a range of health services, including doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, diagnostic and preventive services, and long-term care. Eligibility for Medicaid is based on income and other factors and varies by state. In general, to be eligible for Medicaid, an individual or family must have income at or below a certain level and also meet other requirements such as citizenship or immigration status.

Overall, bonuses can be an important part of a restaurant server's compensation package, as they can incentivize good performance and customer satisfaction, and help to retain high-performing staff. Servers should carefully review the bonus programs offered by their employer and work hard to meet the criteria for each bonus to maximize their earnings potential.

Key takeaways for a restaurant server's salary expectations
  • Servers should expect to earn a base hourly wage that is often below minimum wage, but they can also earn additional income through tips.
  • The amount of money a server can earn in tips will depend on factors such as the restaurant's location, type of cuisine, and customer demographics.
  • On average, servers can expect to earn between $15-$25 per hour, including tips.
  • Some servers may earn more or less than this range based on their experience level, the restaurant's reputation, and the demand for servers in their area.
  • While the potential to earn a high income in tips is attractive, servers should also be prepared for shifts where they may not receive as many tips, which can impact their overall earnings.
  • Servers should also consider other benefits that may be offered by their employer, such as healthcare, vacation time, and retirement plans when evaluating their job salary expectations.


How much do servers typically earn in tips?

The amount of money servers earn in tips can vary depending on factors such as the restaurant's location, type of cuisine, and customer demographics. On average, servers can expect to earn between 15-20% of the total bill in tips.

What is the minimum wage for servers?

The minimum wage for servers can vary by state and even by city. In some states, servers are paid the standard minimum wage, while in others, they may be paid a lower wage with the expectation of earning additional income through tips.

How often do servers receive their tips?

The frequency of tips payments can vary by establishment. Some restaurants pay servers their tips at the end of each shift, while others may pay out tips on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Is there room for advancement in a server position?

While a server position may be considered an entry-level job in the restaurant industry, there is often room for advancement. Servers can work their way up to positions such as lead server or supervisor, which may come with additional responsibilities and higher pay.

How can servers negotiate for a higher wage?

Servers can negotiate for a higher wage by highlighting their experience, skills, and ability to provide excellent customer service. They can also research the average wage for servers in their area and use that information to make a case for a higher wage during negotiations.

by Olena Sobolieva

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