How Much Do Restaurant Employees Make?

How Much Do Restaurant Employees Make?

October 2, 2020, 06:35 PM UTC

Owning any small business means managing labor costs. Restaurant payrolls in particular make for tricky accounting, with such pitfalls as different minimum wages for tipped employees and having to calculate the FICA tip IRS tax credit. Each state, too, classifies restaurant employees differently, and seasonal staff shortages can cause wage inflation. It’s a wonder anyone has time to so much as make toast.

This guide contains a broad look at what restaurants pay employees across various food and beverage jobs. Pay varies greatly between different cities and states, so do your due diligence on what's competitive in your area when negotiating pay, setting salaries, and determining tip policy. You’ll still need a good bookkeeper, but this is a start.

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What to pay front-of-house restaurant employees

Front-of-house staffers are generally tipped employees, meaning there’s wiggle room with pay. But every restaurateur should review Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) federal minimum wage requirements for their state to ensure they’re paying enough.  

For instance, South Carolina doesn’t have a state minimum wage, so workers there are covered by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. South Carolina employers can pay as little as $2.13 an hour provided an employee earns enough in tips to add up to that federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25. But if an employee doesn’t earn at least $5.12 an hour in tips, the employer must pay the difference.

Host

Friendly. Welcoming. A brain like a NASA computer. A host or hostess is stealthily juggling disparate duties: estimating wait times, booking reservations, seating guests, and keeping the flow of service at an even pace. For them, like the patrons they greet, it’s a foot in the door.

Wage: $7.25 to $12 an hour, plus tips. Jobapplications.com puts the average host wage at $9.00. That can vary greatly by locale and by restaurant type. The needs of a fine dining establishment might come with higher pay than fast-casual.

Busser

Though less visible, they nonetheless tend to clear about the same amount as a host in most places. A busser (aka a busboy or busgirl) clears and cleans tables, and may also be called on to run food and pour water.

Wage: $9 to $12, plus tips. That’s according to Salary.com data. The median amount is $10 an hour.

Server

The backbone of the dining room. They explain the menu, take orders, run food, communicate with the kitchen, clean tables, and in some cases burst into song (looking at you, Red Robin birthday crew). 

Wage: $10 to $17, plus tips. ZipRecruiter.com finds the average hourly pay is $16. But that varies wildly, from as low as $5.29 up to $29 an hour and far beyond. Naturally a white tablecloth Chicago steakhouse pays its servers better than a rural Oregon roadside meat-and-three.  

Bartender

Whether you call them a bartender, barkeep, or mixologist, the basic job is the same: make drinks. They might also keep alcohol inventory and shoot the bull with customers. The best know a dozen cocktail recipes by heart and a hundred regulars by name and drink order.

Wage: $9 to $12, plus tips. Salary.com shows that the median hourly pay is $10 for U.S. bartenders. A cicerone, the sommelier equivalent of a beer expert, can earn more. 

Assistant manager

A restaurant assistant manager’s job is, foremost, to help the general manager. Beyond that they might research food suppliers, manage daily operations, oversee inventory, and generally ensure that diners leave happy.

Wage: $18 to $25. Salary.com finds the median hourly figure at $21. Federal law states that restaurant owners and managers cannot take part in a tip pool—the money that tipped employees put in a pot and then divide evenly among them. The law is murkier for assistant managers, who may in fact have few managerial duties. Bottom line, restaurant owners would do well to familiarize themselves with the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulations

General manager

The person in charge. Ultimate responsibility falls on their shoulders. They’ve got to ensure compliance, organize deliveries, manage the staff, negotiate inventory, hire, fire, recruit, and make sure the food and building are all top-notch. 

Wage: $29,850 to $90,290. That’s according to Chron.com, which says average pay was $52,030 as of 2017. Education, years of experience, and location can make a huge difference here.

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What to pay back-of-house restaurant workers

In the kitchen a whole other team makes a restaurant run. The so-called back of house staff includes dishwashers, cooks, and chefs. They don’t get tipped, meaning their wages tend to be more consistent and easier to predict and calculate.

Dishwasher

You like clean dishes, right? Thank a dishwasher. They also make sure everyone has the plates, silverware, and cookware needed to make every station run smoothly and cleanly.

Wage: $6.97 to $14.90

This entry-level job has high turnover and is in high demand. ZipRecruiter.com puts the average American dishwasher salary at $11, a few dollars above minimum wage.

Line cook

The person who prepares the dishes that go out to diners. They work under the sous or executive chef and are generally assigned a specific position such as the grill or vegetable prep. 

Wage: $9 to $16. In some cities line cooks are in such demand they set their own price. On average, PayScale finds that they make $12.23 an hour. 

Sous chef

Sous chef basically means second in command, running many kitchen functions while ultimately answering to the executive chef.

Wage: $18 to $28. A sous is looking at an average of $23 an hour, per Salary.com. One who works full-time should expect benefits such as health care and in some instances retirement plans. 

Executive chef

The name on the marquee. An executive chef is the kitchen’s creative leader, and defines the restaurant’s concept and style. They also run the kitchen’s daily operations and are responsible for the quality of the food.

Wage: $25 to $35. At an average of $31 an hour, according to ZipRecruiter, the executive chef can expect to make $63,772 a year. In larger cities that sum is likely to be several dollars higher. 

Kitchen manager

The kitchen manager ensures that the back of house operations flow smoothly. That includes managing labor and food costs, ordering products, and always watching the bottom line. 

Wage: $16 to $24. Kitchen managers can expect an average of $43,258, according to PayScale. That shakes out to $14.08 an hour. 

[Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels]