average pay for restaurant employees

Let’s face it: minimum wage just doesn’t cut it today.

The minimum wage for workers has remained at $7.25/hour since 2009. Since then, inflation has risen over 27.86%. This translates to $0.28, or $1 in 2009 being equivalent to $1.28 in 2021. In this time, the average national cost of living rose 20%.

Workers making minimum wage may be able to afford the basic necessities, but often struggle to cover other bills and unexpected expenses. This lifestyle makes for little flexibility, burnout, and high employee turnover.

On the other hand, companies that pay their employees a decent wage see high levels of productivity and lower turnover rates. While this can be an expense upfront, companies ultimately save money by attracting and hiring quality employees for the future. 

As a restaurant owner or manager, it can be difficult to find the balance between paying workers a livable wage and turning a profit. We will discuss the average pay for restaurant employees, tips to use when deciding what to pay your workers, and why a livable wage is so important. 

What Is the Livable Wage for Restaurant Workers?

A livable wage is a socially acceptable level of income that provides coverage for basic necessities such as adequate food, shelter, child services, and healthcare. The goal of a livable wage is to allow workers to earn enough income for a satisfactory standard of living and prevent them from falling into poverty.

The livable wage model is an alternative measure of basic needs. It is a market-based approach that includes geographically specific data related to a family’s likely minimum food, childcare, health insurance, housing, transportation, and other basic necessities costs.

A study from MIT shares the livable wage draws on these cost elements and the rough effects of income and payroll taxes to determine the minimum employment earnings necessary to meet a family’s basic needs while also maintaining self-sufficiency. The calculated livable wage does not provide a financial means to enable savings and investment or for the purchase of capital assets (e.g., provisions for retirement or home purchases).

The livable wage also changes based on the number of dependents one has, increasing with each additional dependent. This makes the livable wage more dynamic than the traditional minimum wage.

The living wage calculator is composed of the wage needed to cover basic family expenses on a basic needs budget, plus all relevant taxes. Values are reported in 2021 dollars, and to convert values from annual to hourly, a work-year of 2,080 hours (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) per adult is assumed. The basic needs budget and living wage are calculated as follows:

Basic needs budget = food cost + childcare cost + (insurance premiums + out
of pocket health care costs) + housing cost + transportation cost + other
necessities cost + civic engagement + broadband

Living wage = Basic needs budget + (basic needs budget*tax rate)

Average Pay for Restaurant Employees in the U.S.

So how do restaurants pay their employees? Are they paying their workers livable wages? Unfortunately –– in many instances –– no. We are going to take a closer look at the average pay for restaurant employees by position below. From restaurant server salaries to dishwashers and bartenders, we cover them all. 

Restaurant PositionAvg. Yearly SalaryAvg. Hourly Wage
Server$23,000$11.15
Host/Hostess$21,000$10.35
Bartender$22,000$10.78
Dishwasher$25,000$12.36
Line Cook$27,000$13.26
Chef$44,000$21.48
Food Runner$20,000$9.88

When thinking about the average pay for restaurant employees, you should consider that the average is made up of both the lowest and highest wages. So in many cases, restaurants are paying their staff less than the listed average. It may depend on the state regulations (if any) and the owner or manager’s personal opinion. 

Why the Minimum Wage Is a Problem in the Restaurant Industry

The living wage is often suggested to be $16.54 per hour, or $68,808 per year for a family of four (two working adults, two children), which is significantly higher than the legally mandated minimum wage. Rent and daily expenses are much higher in urban cities than rural areas, and poverty thresholds do not account for geographic variation in the cost of essential household expenses. This is one of the many flaws of the current minimum wage calculation.

Additionally, poverty thresholds do not account for livable costs beyond a very basic food budget. The federal poverty measure does not take into consideration costs like childcare and healthcare that not only draw from one’s income but also are determining factors in one’s ability to work and to endure the potential hardships of everyday life.

Many individuals earning the federal minimum wage live below the poverty line.

The federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, has not gone up since 2009 and has not kept up with the cost of living since the 1960s. There are state minimum wages in some states, and some are higher than the federal amount. The minimum wage does not provide enough income to survive as it doesn’t rise with inflation; it can only increase with congressional action.

If you are a restaurant owner, you can choose to make a change and pay your workers livable wages. You can even potentially lower business costs by switching from W2 workers to 1099 workers.

How Much Should I Pay My Restaurant Staff?

The big question is, “How much should I pay my restaurant workers?” While we cannot give you a definitive answer, here are some helpful tips and things to consider.

As you can see, there are many different factors to consider when determining how much to pay your restaurant staff. 

Qwick Helps Businesses in the Restaurant Industry Thrive

Qwick is here to help your business and Professionals in the restaurant industry. We are an on-demand staffing platform that connects restaurants with open shifts to Professionals eager to fill them. We understand that staffing can be tough. That’s why we created our app

We provide Business Partners with reliable Professionals in the restaurant industry. Post open shifts and Qwick will fill them quickly with qualified staff. 

How Qwick Pays Restaurant Professionals Differently

It is vital for businesses to be aware of the cost of living in their area and the livable wage. This can be a guide for paying fair wages not just to employees, but offering fair wages to contractors as well.

We understand how detrimental the wage crisis is to the workforce, and that the hospitality industry needs to make a change. We’ve made a commitment to our Professionals so they never have to worry if they will be paid more than minimum wage, if the shifts they work will actually make a dent in their bills, or if their time is valued.

At Qwick, we work with Business Partners to pay our hard-working Professionals approximately $9.00 over minimum wage. The following is a breakdown of our percentage paid over minimum wage per market:

Qwick does not set the pay for jobs posted on our app. Instead, Business Partners set the pay and we coach them on acceptable livable wages for the shifts they are looking to fill. From there, Qwick Professionals choose which shifts to accept. Qwick also offers additional pay for certain holidays and generous referral bonuses for Professionals and Business Partners.

Why a Livable Wage Is Needed in the U.S.

Paying a livable wage creates an economy that works for everyone. Livable wages lead to increased worker morale, worker health, and improved quality of service. They also attract talent, lower turnover rates, and save money long-term for employers. Consider paying employees and workers a living wage as a means to show you care for their well-being.

Having a hard time finding workers during a labor shortage? Work with Qwick to fill open shifts at your restaurant instead of struggling to hire full-time workers. Get in touch with us or download the Qwick app today! 

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