How Much Do People Make In The Service Industry?

In my quest to discover the right future for me — attorney or otherwise — I’ve been doing a lot of research into various careers from the simplest money-makers to the most complicated. No one would argue that “service” isn’t the simplest path forward. And it can be a decent way to turn an extra buck, too. But I never knew that waiters and servers in the U.S. don’t even make minimum wage!

One waiter pay graphic showed the average size of the customer’s check at certain establishments (which is a good way to determine how much money they’ll take home at the end of a night and how hard they have to work to make a living). Someone at Denny’s can’t expect to make that much because the average customer check doesn’t even reach $10! That’s a stark difference from someone working for Eddie V’s, where checks are over $90 on average. The average check at Joe’s Crab Shack is $25.42, and the average at Olive Garden is $17.50.

Put into perspective that means a waiter at Eddie V’s in DC will hit minimum wage basically after waiting on one table. At Denny’s a waiter will hit minimum wage eventually, but it’ll take much longer because you’re only getting a buck or two for each table you serve.

And of course it depends on where you live waiting tables, because minimum wage varies by state. And certain states have different “below minimum” pay standards. Some waiters make basically all their money on tips — and sometimes the tips don’t amount to much. All employers are obligated to make up the gap if an employee ends up with less than minimum during a particular night after tips, but seriously…why is this system allowed to stick?! It’s not fair to anyone. Just increase the prices a few cents on the dollar and pay your employees!

The reality that waiters live in is even more disgusting when you consider that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) was enacted decades and decades ago, and people can still make less than minimum wage! The law implemented the American 40-hour work week and minimum wage, which has slowly increased over time (but not in the last decade or so). Taking it to $15 would more than double the current minimum wage, and realistically — it should be $20 an hour by now when adjusted for inflation, considering how long the fight has been going on.

Only a few years ago, the “tipped” wage was at $2.13, where it had been since 1991. Our current president, Joe Biden, has promised to end the tipped minimum wage — and of course we already know he wants to increase the federal minimum to $15 an hour. This would raise millions out of poverty and help families all across the country. How has it not happened yet?!