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The Agony and Ecstasy of Food Service Workers

Best and Worst Cities For Food Service Workers

Working in food service means that part of your salary is determined by the people you serve. PayScale broke down the salaries of waiters and waitresses, bartenders, and chefs and cooks to find out which foodie cities are the best places for restaurant workers.

PayScale analyzed salaries of servers, bartenders and cooks and chefs in some of America's most food-centric cities to find out where it literally pays off to work in the dining industry. We analyzed based salaries, reported tips, state minimum wage laws and the median incomes of each state. Turns out that while you can find a great, and often pricey, meal in any of these fine cities, the salaries, and the impact of your tips, vary more than you might think.


If you're a bartender, San Francisco is your mecca for highest total hourly income. Bartenders here report the highest median reported tips per hour ($15.50) on top of an already healthy median base pay of $11.00 per hour (second only to Portland, OR), for a total median hourly income of $26.50. Does that mean that San Francisco's barkeeps can actually afford to pay rent in this booming tech hub? Well, they certainly seem to be having an easier time paying for housing than their New York City counterparts, another city with a notoriously high cost of living, where bartenders only report earning a median base pay of $8.00 per hour and only collecting $7.10 in tips, the lowest of any city on our list.

Waiters and Waitresses

San Francisco isn't too shabby for waiters and waitresses, either. Servers in The Golden Gate City also top the list of total median hourly incomes ($21.50 per hour). They tie with fellow tech mecca Seattle, WA for highest median base pay ($9.60 per hour), but San Franciscians tip their servers better than Seattlites – waiters and waitresses in San Francisco report earning $13.00 per hour in tips, while Seattle servers only report earning $7.40 an hour in tips.

(It should be noted though that tippees in each city tell a different story. Seattle diners report tipping waiters and waitresses 19.4% for meals, while San Francisco diners told us they tip a median of 19.0%. Seattle residents, you might want to check your math next time you fill out your bill.) Waiters and waitresses in Boston and Miami report earning even more in tips than their peers in San Francisco ($13.00 per hour), but because median base pay is so much lower in these cities ($6.00 and $4.90 respectively), total median pay is much lower for servers in both locales.

Chefs and Cooks

Across the board, chefs and cooks don't earn nearly as much in tips as waiters, waitresses and bartenders, but they do have higher median base pay. Chefs and cooks in Boston, MA earn the highest hourly base pay ($13.60), while Kansas City, MO ranks lowest at $10.20. Chefs in Portland, OR report the highest median hourly tips ($1.30 per hour), which may say something about how much Portland residents really do care about their food.

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