Average Salary: $18,540
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $774,000
If there's one thing all waiters have in common—besides the overwhelming feeling of having forgotten something about that last order, which never goes away—it's that none of them can afford to not be food servers. It's unlikely that you'll ever get rich working as a walking food order station.
The average waiter makes around $19,000 a year, and even though that number's deflated by all the part-timers, it still averages to nine bucks an hour, which isn't far off from reality (source).
The cities are much better places to wait tables than out in the suburbs, and vacation resorts are always a premium spot for service (source). But even working at the most high-society and fancy to-do restaurants in New York or Los Angeles will only give you a comfortable (but not too comfortable) lifestyle. The highest paid servers only take home around $35,000 (source).
But if you work harder than you can even imagine, apply yourself, say yes a lot, and brownnose the pants off of your customers and bosses, you can make a good living—though your paycheck might not reflect it. In your paychecks, you'll likely be getting paid minimum wage—or minimum wage for servers in some states, which may not be much more than two bucks an hour (source).
It sounds ridiculous (and it is), but they do this because you're expected to make up the difference in your tips. Arguments that this misses the whole point that tips are supposed to be extra income and not base income aside, every server that's ever carried food from one place to another has done it for that sweet tip money—when it's there, of course.
Tips can be good on some days and just plain nonexistent on others. You might work your tail off on one eight-person meal, only to end up with a big fat winking smiley face on the tip line. Or you might be giving a table horrible service, and they take pity on you by showering you with dollar bills.
The best thing you can do is work equally hard for everybody, and trust that it'll all work out in the end—or that maybe one of your customers will happen to be a big-time movie producer.
Don't lie, we know that's still in the back of your head. Us too.
Having an eye on your own finances is really important in this position. It's up to you to learn how to manage your spending, and bank the money instead of letting the wad of cash you bring home each night burn a hole in your pocket.