The city you live in can greatly affect the size of your paycheck, and this is especially true for restaurant employees. Payscale.com, a website the claims to be the "world's largest online salary database," analyzed the (self-reported) salaries of 15,000 "servers, bartenders and cooks and chefs in some of America's most food-centric cities" — including Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and others — and found that while it's easy to find a substantial and/or expensive meal in each city, salaries and tips vary widely.
For bartenders, San Francisco is the place to live. Compared to bartenders in other cities, they reported the highest median amount of tips per hour — $15.50 — on top of a median base pay of $11 per hour, which means that bartenders tend to make $26.50 on average per hour. Both cities are notorious for their high standards of living, especially in regards to rent, but bartenders in New York City make significantly less according to the self-reported numbers, with a median base pay of $8 per hour, plus $7.10 per hour in tips, for total of $15.10 per hour.
San Francisco has been good to waiters and waitresses, too. There, they make $21.50 per hour on average thanks to a median base pay of $9.60 per hour* and take home median hourly tips of $11.90. In New York City, severs tend to only make $15.30 per hour, which is $6 less than their San Francisco compatriots. Waiters in Los Angeles make more too, typically earning $16.20 per hour.
Servers in San Francisco earn the full city minimum of 11.01 per hour, plus gratuities.
Two obvious reasons for these bicoastal discrepancies include San Francisco's higher minimum wage and California's lack of a tip credit, which disallows employers from counting tips as part of each employees' wage. That means servers in San Francisco earn the full city minimum of 11.01 per hour, plus gratuities, as opposed to the lower tipped minimum, which can fall to as low as $2.13 per hour as it does in New Jersey and Texas, or $5 per hour in New York. Other states without a tip credit include Washington, where Seattle waiters earn $17 per hour, as well as Nevada, with Las Vegas waiters earning $17.60 per hour, and Minnesota, with Minneapolis waiters earning $14.40 per hour.
Those who work in Houston earn the least: Median base pay is only $2.80 per hour, and they only earn about $8.80 per hour in tips for a grand total of $11.60 an hour. That's nearly $10 less per hour than what service employees make in San Francisco. Servers in Philadelphia, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, and San Antonio rely the most heavily on tips for the majority (over 70 percent) of their income.
The median salary for a cook in New York City is $13 per hour.
Proving a well-known fact in the industry, chefs and cooks earn very little compared to servers and bartenders. Back of house staff almost never make tips, and must rely solely on their base salary per hour. Even in cities like San Francisco, where the pay tends to be higher, the median hourly salary for a cook is only $14.30. While they still earn more than those in similar positions in cities like New York ($13 per hour) and Miami ($12.70 per hour), it's not by much.
Tipping in restaurants is a hot topic of debate as of late. A few restaurants have eliminated tipping altogether and instead increased their employees' hourly salaries, which will benefit those who rely heavily on unpredictable tips. However, that might not be the best news for bartenders and severs in San Francisco, who make bank under the current system. Check out the infographic below:
*Note: Payscale's survey was conducted between January 1, 2013-January 1, 2015. That time frame likely accounts for why some of the base pay figures fall below the current San Francisco minimum, which rose at the beginning of the year, as well as below some of the other city or state minimums.