How Much Do Restaurant Workers Get Paid?

Working as a chef is a rewarding way to pay the bills.
Working as a chef is a rewarding way to pay the bills. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

If you're a foodie or just find serving others personally rewarding, working in a restaurant may be your calling. Although most people think of restaurant work as a student side job useful for paying tuition, a restaurant job can turn into a full-time career if you push for promotions. While some staff in food services make very little, those with more experience and the right credentials earn a decent living.

Servers and Hosts

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food and beverage servers often work part-time hours and rely on their work to fund college studies or provide supplementary income on top of another job. Although many managers prefer applicants who have finished high school, it's possible to get started in a lower-level position with less education. Before becoming a server, junior staff start out as hosts who welcome customers, provide menus and lead people to their seats. According to 2010 data, these workers make $9.43 per hour or $19,600 per year on average, with typical salaries ranging anywhere between $15,780 and $25,630. Servers, also called waiters and waitresses, fair a bit better, earning $9.99 per hour or $20,790 per year on average. Salaries range between $15,690 and $29,980.


If pouring a mean tequila shot is more your thing, you might prefer working as a restaurant bartender. At establishments with separate bars, the bartender is responsible for serving beer, wine and mixed drinks to patrons. These workers make more on average than wait staff, taking home $10.25 per hour, or $21,310 annually on average. They have the potential to earn more, too. Salaries start at $15,800 and can climb as high as $31,480.

Food Service Managers

If you want to make a full-time living out of restaurant work, make your way up the career ladder and secure a position in food service management. According to the bureau, some workers move up through the ranks from server to manager with work experience alone, but aspiring managers are choosing to take two- and four-year college programs in hospitality to get a head start. On average, food service managers earn $25.11 per hour, which works out to a respectable annual salary of $52,220. Typical yearly pay ranges anywhere between $30,480 and $80,410, depending on education and experience.

Chefs and Head Cooks

Workers who spend their time cooking in the kitchen also earn well. Many chefs and cooks graduate from two- or four-year culinary training programs, while others learn through on-the-job training programs offered by large hotel chains and restaurants. Becoming a sought after and highly-paid executive chef takes years of reputation building and experience in the kitchen. According to 2010 information from the bureau, chefs make $21.53 per hour on average, equivalent to $44,780 annually. Salaries start as low as $23,260, while the pay of more experienced cooks can pass the $70,000 mark.

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