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Commissioned by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation

August 28, 2014


Representing the most extensive research of the industry’s workforce in decades, “Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry” details the opinions of nearly 5,100 Americans who currently work or formerly worked in the restaurant industry, as well as those who own or operate restaurants.


In October and November 2013, the study was implemented through an online survey fielded among a wide range of individuals in the restaurant industry workforce and mall intercepts in 20 shopping malls across the U.S. In total, 5,093 completed surveys were received from 3,309 people working in restaurant and foodservice positions, 442 in business operations positions, 714 owners and operators and 628 individuals not currently working in the industry, but did at some point in their career. 


Key Findings

Industry Perception

·         The vast majority of restaurant employees and owner/operators – 88 percent of all survey respondents – say that they are proud to work in the restaurant industry.

·         Nine out of 10 restaurant employees in each of the major occupations surveyed said the industry is a good place to get a first job.

·         A strong majority agreed that a job in the restaurant industry is a good one to have.


Career Opportunities, Advancement and Tenure


·         Six out of 10 restaurant employees said their first paid job was in the restaurant industry.


·         A majority of employees across all occupations and age groups said the industry provides good long-term career opportunities. Also, individuals in almost every occupation and age group felt the restaurant industry affords them career advancement.

·         More than eight out of 10 current workers agreed that restaurants provide an opportunity for people who want to succeed based on their hard work.


·         Seven out of 10 restaurant employees said they would likely continue working in the industry until they retire.


Career Opportunities, Advancement and Tenure, continued


·         The median industry tenure of employees in restaurant manager and business operations positions was 20 years, and for those over 55, the median was over 30 years. 



·         While wage ranges varied by occupation, restaurant managers earn a reported median annual base salary of $47,000.  Salaried chefs and cooks receive a median base of $50,000, with the upper quartile at $65,000 and the lower quartile at $40,000. 

·         When employer-paid wages and tips are combined, waiters and waitresses earn a median of $16.13 per hour with bartenders receiving a median of $19.35 per hour. 

·         Among all hourly employees, roughly seven out of 10 restaurant managers and shift or crew supervisors said they received a pay raise within the past 12 months.  Among salaried employees, a majority across all age groups said they received a raise in the last year.

·         Of those not in their first restaurant job, 97 percent of restaurant managers and 94 percent of shift or crew supervisors said they had advanced to higher-paying jobs while working in the restaurant industry. 


Restaurant Owner/Operator Findings


·         A vast majority (77 percent) of restaurant owners said they started in the industry at an entry-level position. 

·         Operators held a variety of positions on their way up the career ladder with 84 percent being managers, 61 percent shift or crew supervisors and 59 percent chefs or cooks. 

·         Forty-two percent of owners, when asked how they became operators, said they started their restaurant from “scratch,” while 20 percent said they purchased the business and 13 percent became a franchisee.

·         An overwhelming majority of all restaurant owners (94 percent) said they will likely continue working in the industry until they retire. Eighty-four percent of the youngest owners, those under 35, said they see the foodservice industry as a life-long career. 


For more information and to download the full research report, visit


About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation:

As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the NRAEF exists to enhance the restaurant industry’s service to the public through education, community engagement and promotion of career opportunities. The NRAEF works to attract, develop and retain a career-oriented professional workforce for the restaurant industry. The restaurant and foodservice industry comprises 980,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of more than 13 million employees, making it one of the nation's largest employers. For more information on the NRAEF, visit

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