Since 1933, the U.S. has observed very strict minimum wage laws. Over the years, there have been many changes to these laws, including the dissolution of the minimum wage, the reinstatement of the wage and many increases in the wage. Most recently, the federal government handed over power to the states to determine what the individual state minimum wages are. Each state may select to increase the minimum wage above the national wage, which is $5.15, but it may not decrease the way below the national standard.
While the minimum wage is set at $5.15, it is recognized that the server minimum wage is not exactly that high…on paper. When it comes to the server minimum wage, each state has its own wage set. That wage is generally just over $2.00, but rarely much more. This minimum wage serves as a very base salary for servers who are on the clock serving tables. If a server needs to come in during a time when he or she is not serving, then the server must be paid at least the base minimum wage for the state and locality. For example, if a server needs to come into a restaurant for a cleaning day, then the server needs to make more than he or she would normally make for base pay.
The reason that the server minimum wage is so low is simple: servers make tips. At the end of each shift, servers are required to report how much money they earned during the course of their shift. That amount must equal or exceed the minimum wage. Thus, the server minimum wage is a base rate, but the server generally makes much more than the minimum wage.
It is important to note that servers must report the full amount of their tips. Often, when tips are factored into the equation, the server minimum wage becomes a secondary source of income, as the tips tend to exceed the minimum wage by a great deal.