Although it’s an occupation that can be hard on the feet, becoming a waitress has a number of advantages. The job requires minimal training and no formal education beyond basic math and literacy skills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that about half of all waiters and waitresses worked part-time as of 2012. Variable hours and shifts make it possible to work around other commitments, such as child care or school, and in some situations tips can be substantial. Salaries, however, vary widely.
The federal minimum wage for a waitress is $2.13 per hour, and has been since 1991, according to an April 2013 article in Bloomberg News. The U.S. Department of Labor notes that each state has three options to pay tipped employees such as waitresses. First, the state can pay only the minimum cash wage of $2.13. Second, a state can pay a salary above the minimum cash wage. Third, the state must pay the state minimum wage, which is higher in some states than the federal minimum wage. In a state that must pay only the federal minimum for waiters and waitresses, a full-time waitress might earn as little as $369 a month, exclusive of tips.
Average Monthly Pay
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports waitresses and waiters earned an average annual income of $20,880 in 2013. A monthly income at that average would be $1,740. The vast majority of waiters and waitresses earned between $16,300 and $29,810 a year. For those on the low end of that scale, a monthly income would be $1,358. For those on the high end, the monthly pay would be $2,431. However, waitresses can earn a lot more than that depending on the tips they receive. Tip earnings depend on the amount of the bill, type of restaurant and number of tables a waitress handles during a shift.
Work Setting Variables
Most waitresses worked in restaurants in 2013, according to the BLS, where the average monthly income was $1,710. The next largest employer is traveler accommodations, with a monthly income of $2,067 on average. Waitresses in other amusement and recreation industries averaged $1,806 a month. In drinking places that sold primarily alcoholic beverages, waitresses averaged a monthly income of $1,659. Although department stores employed only 300 waitresses and waiters, they offered the highest pay of all work settings and industries: $25,550 annually and $2,129 monthly.
The State of the States
Wages for waitresses varied significantly by state, although the top five highest-paying states in 2013 were all within a $3,200 annual range. The BLS reports that Arkansas offered the lowest average monthly income of $1,430. Hawaii was the highest-paying state in 2013, with an average monthly salary of $2,410. Waitresses in the District of Columbia averaged $2,144 monthly, while Massachusetts paid slightly more at an average of $2,232. Average salaries in Vermont were very similar at $2,245 monthly. In Washington, waitresses averaged $2,296 a month.
Formal education is unnecessary for a waitress, according to the BLS. Some states do have age requirements for waitresses who serve alcoholic beverages, however. People who work multiple jobs, need supplemental income or are going to school often become waitresses. Although some larger restaurants and chain eateries offer formal training programs, most waitresses have only a short period of on-the-job training. Demand for waitresses is low. The BLS projects job growth of only 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, about half the average projected for all occupations.