Servers, often called waiters and waitresses, take orders and bring customers food in full-service, sit-down restaurants. Bussers clear tables and bring dirty dishes to the kitchen. On average, servers tend to make between $1,000 and $2,500 more than bussers per year, and this holds true in many states and restaurant types. They are also paid differently; while bussers in many restaurants share in a percentage of wait staff tips, they make at least minimum wage and their pay is more directly tied to the amount of hours they work. Servers, on the other hand, depend on tips for most of their wages, and the amount of money they make can vary significantly per shift.
Average National Pay
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 395,750 bussers and other dining room and cafeteria attendants were employed in the United States as of May 2012. They earned an average of $9.47 an hour, and reported average yearly pay of $19,690. Approximately 2,332,020 wait staff were employed in the United States, and earned an average of $9.95 an hour and $20,710 per year.
Pay by Employer Type
Servers working at stand-alone restaurants reported an average annual pay of $20,370 in 2012, while bussers at stand-alone restaurants averaged $18,960 per year. Both tended to earn higher wages at restaurants in hotels, an average of $24,360 for servers and $22,670 for bussers. Bars were something of an anomaly in the industry, where bussers reported slightly higher earnings of $20,140 compared to $19,660 for servers, probably because most "serving" in bars is done by bartenders.
Pay by State
Nevada provided another anomalous situation, where bussers reported higher wages than servers, $24,560 per year compared to $22,540 for servers. This was also true of Mississippi, where bussers averaged $17,830 and servers averaged $17,520 per year. However, in most states, servers earned more -- sometimes considerably. Washington reported one of the largest disparities between the earnings of servers and bussers, where servers reported an average pay of $27,040 per year and bussers earned an average of $22,190.
For those looking for a position as either a busser or server, the good news is that restaurants are frequently hiring for both positions. This has less to do with employment growth, and more to do with the very high rate of turnover in the restaurant industry. Still, the number of persons employed as servers and bussers in the United States is expected to grow; between 2010 and 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects an additional 17,700 jobs to be created for bussers and about 195,900 new jobs to be created for servers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Waiters and Waitresses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 Wages for Waiters and Waitresses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 Wages for Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers
- ASAP: California Appellate Court Protects Employers Who Allow Tips for Dishwashers