The Wall Street Journal's Waiting Tables at Top-Tier Restaurants is New Career Path for Foodies covers how waiting tables, at least at the growing number of expensive restaurants, has become an attractive career option. Key quote on compensation:
Head waiters at top-tier restaurants can earn from $80,000 to as much as $150,000 a year including tips, according to industry executives.
The key reasons waiters are paid so much are (1) the job is very demanding; and, (2) customers expect waiters to be highly knowledgeable about not just the menu, but food and wine in general. Great quote from the article on customer expectations:
Customer expectations of servers are high. Waiters are expected to be at ease and in command of a wide range of facts and skills. In a 16-course dinner at Eleven Madison Park, a single plate might have 15 ingredients and five preparations ... Servers are expected to have accurate answers to specific questions about food allergens, the type of sea salt in a particular dish or the origin of the duck.
Top-tier restaurants tend to be quite expensive, generally charging $100 or more per person for dinner. In exchange they not only have to provide great food, but also a great overall dining experience. An important ingredient in this experience is a highly knowledgeable and skilled wait staff.
We've written in the past on the growing importance of providing experiences instead of just goods and services. High end restaurants are a good example of this trend.
Well paid restaurant wait staff also nicely illustrates another important trend, the rise of high-end personal services. This is a trend we've long covered and is driven in large part by the growing numbers of affluent but time constrained consumers.
We expect the demand for high-end personal services to continue to grow. Our 2008 view on this sector remains the same:
... the long-term outlook for these firms and the businesses that support them is strong, as consumers look to outsource tasks they don't enjoy or have time for.