Wages in The Restaurant Business

I am sure many of you are curious how much can you make in New York City. Well, you can make a lot if you only want to. You definitely are in a privileged position if you are a US citizen or at least you own a working visa.

So far, I can tell you about working in the restaurant business, which I am familiar with. If you come here as an underprivileged immigrant and you start working in a coffee shop, you usually get $9/hour plus tips. Nowadays, the wages shift a bit, so you could get as much as $10/hour. Tips at coffee shops are very small – it’s $10-20 a day since you split it with other staff. It’s pretty much up to you how many hours you are going to work; people usually work 5-6 days a week, which adds up to about 40 hours a week or more. Once you decide to become a waiter, we start talking a different kind of money. It all depends on the restaurant and the shift, but your income will range from about $30 on a slow day to $400 on a very busy night. I am talking about popular places, but not high-end ones – those I haven’t got the chance to know first-hand. Waiters usually work four 8-hour shifts a week. The waiters are helped by busboys (those who bring water and cutlery, then clean up the table and sweep). Busboys get about 10% of the waiters’ tips. Runners, who bring the food to tables, usually get 12%. Of course, those rates may vary depending on the restaurant, but this is the average. Waiters usually get an additional $5 per hour, but since that barely covers the taxes, this amount is usually not even considered.

Bartenders always make good money. If you only start your bartending adventure, you will get bad dayshifts that will make you about $100 a pop, but a night shift always amounts to about $400. I mean regular bars; fancy nightclubs mean much bigger money. Bartenders usually work 3-4 shifts a week. A bartender is helped out by a barback: cutting up fruit necessary for drinks, keeping the bar clean, helping making drinks in a  big crowd – a barback usually gets 20% of bartender’s tips.

Were I 25, coming to NYC, I would do a bartending licence in a heartbeat (if you’re friends with a bar owner, they will let you learn on their business) and would work minimum 4 shifts a week in a bar or at a nightclub in Manhattan. You can make as much as $1500 a week that way. Work a few years like that and a nice sum will start appearing on your account. I wish I knew that back then – and I wish I had the balls.