If you are a server in California or are considering becoming a server, then you should know what the minimum wage is for servers in California to see if you are being paid the correct amount, or whether this is a job you would like to do.

Servers are those who provide and serve their customers with food and beverages in a restaurant or similar type of business where food and beverages are brought to the table, and as part of this service, a server will typically receive tips (gratuities) for doing so.

California servers fortunately do not need to rely fully on the tips they receive to make up the minimum wage rate as the state does not have a tip credit system in action. This means that a California server will receive a flat pay of the minimum wage rate or higher (the same as non-tipped roles), without the wage being split between a traditionally lower tipped minimum wage and a tip credit to make up the difference.

Put simply, tips do not count toward minimum wage for servers in California. Employers of restaurants that hire servers (and bartenders, etc.) must pay them the state’s standard minimum wage.

California Server Minimum Wage 2021

So, how much do California servers make? The minimum cash wage for servers and waiters/waitresses in California is the same as the tipped minimum wage in California, which is $13 per hour for those working in businesses with 25 or fewer employees, and $14.00 per hour for those working in businesses with 26 or more employees. This is the minimum per hour that a California server must be paid and that a California employer must pay its servers.

Server minimum wage in California

Server Minimum Wage in California (Minimum Cash Wage and Tip Credits)

$13.00 or $14.00 per hour does sound like a lot, but unlike most states, California does not have tip credits, nor a tipped minimum wage rate that is lower than the regular rate. Employees in every industry within the state will be paid the exact same minimum wage depending on the size of your employer. The regular minimum wage in California (which is the same as the server minimum wage) for all types of employees in California was increased to $13.00 per hour (for those working for employers with 25 or less employees) and $14.00 per hour (for employers with 26 or more employees) in January 2021.

Most states follow a law that allows employers to pay their employees an hourly minimum cash wage with the addition of tip credits, which will total the regular minimum wage. However, in California there is only one minimum wage rate for all employees due to their being no minimum cash wage and no tip credit.

In California, servers must be paid a minimum wage of either $13.00 or $14.00 per hour depending on the size of the employer. Let’s assume that a server does not make an average of $14.00 per hour in tips over the course of their pay period (usually two weeks), then the employer must still pay the California server a wage of $14.00 per hour, and the tips are still there for the server to keep.

Average Server Salary in California (2021)

We have covered the minimum wage that an employer must pay a California server of $13.00 (25 or less employees) or $14.00 per hour (26 or more employees). What we have not discussed is the average that servers get paid in California.

If you are a server or are looking to work as a server in a restaurant or similar business in California, knowing the hourly wage for servers is important, but knowing what you can expect to earn is even more important. Most California servers are not going to take a position at a restaurant with the view that they can only earn $13.00 or $14.00 per hour, because based on working 40 hours a week, their gross pay would be $520-$560 per week.

What do servers get paid in California?

The average server hourly wage in California (according to the job website Indeed.com) is $15.00 per hour. So, if you were to work an 8 hour shift or a total of 8 hours in a day across a couple of shifts, you could earn (on average) about $120 (8 hrs x $15). If you worked five days per week then you could earn about $600 per week.

If you took just two weeks off a year and worked for 50 weeks you could potentially earn $30,000. If you decided to take 3 weeks off per year (or the equivalent) then you could possibly earn 49 weeks x $600 = $29,400 for the year. This, of course, is before California income tax.

The above calculations are just averages to give you an idea of what you can earn as a California server. The most important aspects of how much you can earn will depend on how good you are at your job, the type of food/beverage establishment you work at, and how busy it is. Also many people that work at restaurants or similar establishments are willing to work more than 40-hours per week so they qualify for overtime pay.

If the average food item on the menu is $15-$20 and the restaurant mainly serves wings, burgers, sandwiches, nachos, fries, and similar snack or small portion food, then the average check for each guest or table will be much less, and therefore, the percentage tip against the total check will result in you earning less per table you serve and you’ll have to serve many tables during your shift.

On the other hand, if you work at a finer dining restaurant or one that is really busy and serves steak, seafood, and other higher-priced menu and beverage items, then you stand to earn more money as the total check for each table you serve will be that much higher and the percentage tip you receive on a higher check will be that much more. Most of this also depends on how busy the restaurant is and how many servers there are in relation to the number of covers the restaurant has.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this is that, as a California employer, it is your responsibility to pay your servers a minimum hourly rate that equals or surpasses the California minimum wage, regardless of what tips they receive. Failing to do so will be breaking federal and state laws. Equally, it is important that as a server working in California, you know your rights and how much you should be paid.

If you have specific questions about the laws surrounding the minimum wage for servers (tipped employees) from both an employer and employee perspective, you can contact the California Department of Industrial Relations wage claim adjudication department. Additionally, if you are an employee who isn’t being paid what you legally should be, you can file a complaint with them too.