The Best (and Worst) Paying States for Restaurant Staff in 2021

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The US employs over 8.1 million restaurant workers who earn an average salary of $24,861—that’s 54% less than all occupations across the country.1

Beyond the low pay, the restaurant industry—and its workers—faces severe challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the pandemic began, over 110,000 restaurants shut down, whether long term or permanently.2 On top of that, 46.7% of people are eating out more.3 

With added pressures, safety precautions, inconsistent work, or unemployment, restaurant workers struggle to find stability during the pandemic.

To raise awareness and help those in the restaurant business who may be seeking a new gig, we found the best (and worst) paying areas for restaurant jobs in the US. (We included all 50 states and Washington DC.)

We looked at the average salary for servers, bartenders, dishwashers, and other restaurant jobs to find a weighted average. We then ranked each state by comparing the average restaurant staff salary to the average income for all occupations. We also have a page for Best Paying States for US Teachers you can check out.

Best States for Restaurant Staff Map

In every state, restaurant workers earn less than the average salary for all other occupations. From the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, we see that restaurant workers make up 55.6 out of every 1,000 jobs nationally.

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The best-paying states for restaurant workers

Hawaii has the best pay for restaurant workers, making an average salary of $41,502. (Hawaii’s also the best-paying state for nurses.)

Compared to the national average, Hawaii pays its restaurant workers nearly double—and it’s the only state that pays above $40,000 in the top 10 best-paying states for restaurant workers. (Washington DC pays above $40,000, but restaurant workers in DC make 54% less than the district’s average salary.)

However, even in Hawaii, restaurant work pay still falls 24% short of the state’s average salary for all occupations.

The next best-paying regions are Puerto Rico, Vermont, and Arizona, which all pay restaurant workers about 40% less than the average pay for all occupations. A total of 27 states pay restaurant staff better than the national average of 54% less.

Which states employ the most (and least) restaurant workers?

States big on tourism, particularly in Las Vegas, Nevada, employed the most restaurant workers per 1,000 jobs, followed by Hawaii, Montana, and Florida.

The regions with the fewest restaurant gigs per 1,000 jobs include the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Mississippi.

The worst-paying states for restaurant staff

Virginia has the worst pay for restaurant workers, with an average salary of $22,894 (60% less than all other occupations). The other lowest-paying states for restaurant staff include Rhode Island, Georgia, and Maryland, which all paid nearly 60% less than all occupations.

Puerto Rico had the lowest average salary in the nation ($18,047), followed by Alabama, Louisiana, Guam, and South Carolina, which all paid an average of less than $20,000 a year.

Where does your state stack up when it comes to restaurant staff salaries? Does it pay better or less than the national average?

Restaurant staff salary compared by state

Average restaurant staff salary
Average salary of all occupations
Percent less that restaurant staff earn
2Puerto Rico $18,047$29,670-39%
5Virgin Islands$26,083$45,97043%
9South Dakota$22,394$42,920-48%
12West Virginia$22,331$43,420-49%
15New York $32,027$63,970-50%
19North Dakota$24,454$50,430-52%
23Minnesota $26,582$55,890-52%
28Kentucky $20,206$44,020-54%
29District of Columbia $41,205$89,800-54%
31New Hampshire$24,482$53,950-55%
34South Carolina $19,971$44,380-55%
38Ohio $21,991$49,430-56%
41Louisiana $19,604$44,170-56%
42North Carolina $21,464$48,550-56%
43Connecticut $27,535$62,350-56%
45New Mexico $20,602$47,040-56%
49New Jersey$25,520$59,980-57%
52Georgia $20,544$49,620-59%
53Rhode Island$23,241$57,220-59%


To calculate the average restaurant staff salary, we used each restaurant occupation’s annual salary and the number of persons employed to create a weighted average. We included servers, fast food workers, bartenders, dishwashers, hosts, and hostesses to create our report.

Trevor Wheelwright
Written by
Trevor Wheelwright
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  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics,” May 2019. Accessed Jan 21, 2021.
  2. Carolina Gonzalez, Seattle Times, “Due to COVID-19, Restaurant Closings Top 110,000, with Industry in ‘Free Fall’,” December 7, 2020. Accessed Jan 21, 2021.
  3. survey conducted December 2020.