When it comes to food service jobs, where you live can be almost as important as where you work. While waiters at Chez Fancypants will almost always outearn counter staff at FastBurger, working in certain metro areas will give you a decided pay advantage. PayScale’s Restaurant Report breaks down the highest (and lowest) earning locations for food service workers.
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The top-earning cities look similar, across job titles. Waiters and waitresses earn the highest typical income, including tips and base pay, in San Francisco ($21.50/hour), Boston ($19/hour), and Miami ($17.90/hour). For bartenders, the top three cities are San Francisco ($26.50/hour), Las Vegas ($22/hour), and Seattle ($21/hour). Chefs and cooks earn the highest typical wage in Boston ($14.40), San Francisco ($14.30), and Seattle ($13.80).
Before you pack your bags and head to one of these high-earning areas, however, you’ll want to take cost of living into account. The cities that come up most frequently on the highly paid lists for each occupation are metros where cost of living is high, compared with the national average. San Francisco and Boston routinely top lists of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and while your tips will go farther in Seattle or Miami, neither city is exactly cheap — cost of living in Seattle is 24 percent higher than the national average, according to PayScale’s Cost of Living Calculator, and Miami is 15 percent higher.
Of course, no matter where you live, if you’re a server or a bartender, your income will depend partly on the generosity of your customers. The highest-paying metros overall tend to be the ones where tips are also the highest — meaning that a significant portion of workers’ earnings came from tips. Depending on customer whim for a high percentage of your income is like playing the lottery with your livelihood: sometimes, the numbers just won’t work in your favor.
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