The Ivy League's New Dream Job: Not Wall Street, But Waiting Tables

Tyler Durden's picture

As recently as October, we joked that the "best-performing" job category in the US was also the most miserable one - i.e., "bartenders and waiters", also known as jobs which often times get paid below minimum wages and rely on the goodwill of their customers for tips to survive. And indeed, as of November, there were a record 10.4 million waiters in the US, representing a record 45 consecutive monthly increases in this job category - hardly the stuff robust recoveries are made of.

However, it turns out the joke may be on us after all because as the WSJ explains, "Waiting Tables at Top-Tier Restaurants Is New Career Path for Ivy League and Culinary School Grads."

It appears that gone are the days when every Ivy graduate's fast-track to stardom dream was to become a banker (or in the worst case, a corporate lawyer). And with Wall Street's increasing conversion into a utility, the aspirations of the best and the brightest will progressively shift elsewhere. But waiting tables? Well, as it turns out that's where the money is because "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. In comparison, a line cook might earn as little as $35,000 to $45,000 a year while working longer hours. The nation's highest-rated restaurants, including Per Se, Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park in New York and Alinea in Chicago, hire as few as 10% of the individuals applying for waitstaff jobs."

Perhaps what is just as important, is that there is no universal revulsion against head waiters across the US and if and when the great uprising finally crosses the Hudson River, while bankers will be the object of public scorn, to put it mildly, waiters and other servent will probably be cherished. So why not make some good money in the process?

This thought process seems to have spread and as the WSJ reports, "at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., 20% of graduates from two- and four-year programs go into "front of the house" positions in the dining room, which also include maitre d's, bartenders and sommeliers, compared with 5% roughly 15 years ago, says Jennifer Purcell, an associate dean overseeing the hospitality and service curriculum. In the past six years, the Culinary Institute has added customer-focused courses, including one on brewed beverages and one on advanced serving. This year, 350 students completed the course work, she says."

And, as noted earlier, it isn't just anyone who is waiting on the rich and famous: it's those graduates who (or whose parents) have spent north of $200,000 in the past four years so they could get comfortable jobs:

Many of the servers at Eleven Madison are recent grads of the Culinary Institute, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. To attract young talent, Mr. Guidara says, the restaurant cultivates a teaching atmosphere, with events such as a weekly "happy hour" course on cocktails and wine often taught by experienced servers on staff. "It's hard for us to keep our staff from coming in three or four hours early," he adds. "They are not just here for a job; they give themselves fully."



Several servers who have moved from Eleven Madison Park to more casual restaurants have instituted a similarly professional atmosphere, he adds. A networking group called the Dining Room Collaborative began in New York in 2013 to foster education and a sense of professionalism among wait staff at fine-dining establishments. The idea is to make server "a sexy dining-room job," says Anthony Rudolf, the group's co-founder and former general manager at Per Se, in New York.


Celia Erickson, a 24-year-old server at Eleven Madison, has an undergraduate degree in hospitality from Cornell University and completed a yearlong wine and beverage program at the Culinary Institute of America (where her father is provost). When starting at Eleven Madison Park last summer, she shadowed kitchen staff as part of her training and had an entry-level server role. She says she has gained insight into managing a top restaurant. "My first two months, it was really hard for me. I spent five years in school and now I was waiting tables," she says.

So while we salute this "upwardly mobile" recovery in 6 figure-earning waiters, we wonder what will happen when the day comes that the patrons of such ultra-exclusive establishments as Eleven Madison can no longer afford $60 steaks and $20 truffle fries. Because as hard as we try, we fail to imagine just what portable and marketable skills America's nearly 11 million waiters will offer when the time comes to move on (aside, of course, for any insider trading "chat rooms" the Dining Room Collaborative may secretly unleash upon an unsuspecting world).

But here we go again: concerned about the future in a world when clearly only the here and now matters.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
navy62802's picture

Celia should just become a prostitute. She could probably make more money.

90's Child's picture

"Head waiters"

.... Must be some good head.

zaphod's picture

It is called being "in the service", which means you dedicate your life to serving those above your class, and are happy for the opportunity to do so.

These folks should watch Downton Abbey to see both how to do their new jobs correctly and what their children's future looks like.


SWRichmond's picture

If you are polite and well-educated enough then you, too, can have a great career in the service of the feudal lairds!

A hundred and eighty years ago we called them "house niggers".

NoDebt's picture

John Cleese (Monty Python) teaching higher ed in the "service" industry:

Pay attention grads!  This is what the real world is going to do to you.


old naughty's picture


Funny and spot on. I did pay attention...

I used to frequent Hooters; and I respected them servers.

Xibalba's picture

I assume the article forgot to mention the grads from Harvard are from the Drama dept. 

WillyGroper's picture

Nothin in the wallet, but I got the silver in my pocket.

Jack Burton's picture

My thoughts exactly "zaphod". This is a back to the future insight into the new and growing return to past social classes and lifestyles. Indeed, serving the well of can offer a secure life. You are not going to make a lot of money, but you work in a clean and often not unfriendly work place. Your betters like to be treated as royality and will in many cases provide some rewards for good service. The Downton Abbey workers worked very hard, but had clean clothes, some very nice clothes, they had room and board and comradship of fellow workers. This was not working on a slag heap at the mills. So yes, those who in better times would have been middle managers are now looking to "service" as a way to cope with the new global economy.

Lets Buy The Dip's picture

haha! getting a head of the rest, I would call it. LOL. 

Right now, those waiters should buy gold. The last time the MONTHLY WEEKLY and daily bottomed, we rallied up quickly. 

yup the elite are buying gold up by the ton, so they want it cheap. But look at the 


It seems, and I am taking a guess is that GOLD might be where you want to be in 2014, MONTHLY, WEEKLY, daily all starting to turn. Last time this happen OMG, we shot up like a gyfox night.

PT's picture

Guy Fawkes.

Or is that some kind of new-fangled abbreviation? 

90's Child's picture

Just the tip ain't ever enough.

Harbanger's picture

I'd rather go home with aching feet, than an aching....

90's Child's picture

Aching heart?

She looks like a real dick tease.

Thomas's picture

Within the hospitality world (Culinary Institute, Johnson Wales, and the top of the chain--Cornell), such a positon is not as nutty as it sounds. If you think about what the first rung of any ladder looks like, it is grunt work. What would trouble me is that the kids graduating would NOT be willing to start at the bottom. I can assure you the (our) hotel school grads have set themselves up for an enormously successful career going forward, especially relative to some kid with a psychology or sociology degree.

Occident Mortal's picture


Anyone with zero experience should expect to work at the entry level for a while. If your education was worth it you will progress faster.

This reminds me of the time I read about the two UBS guys in London Adeboli and the other one who got 7 years for rogue trading.

UBS had two guys aged 26 and 27 responsible for trading a $120bn book, they had 6 years trading experience between them. I mean FFS. On what planet is that a sensible corporate policy? And who goes to jail?
The two kids of course.

Harbanger's picture

One kid, not two.  Under the ACA, you are a kid up to age 26.

Thomas's picture

BTW-I am still just irritated from a brawl with a bunch of fake feminists over at Twitter. They can't make a coherent arugment because their heads are too far up their asses. I guess today is Cage Fight Thursday.

nmewn's picture

Hold on Thomas, let me grab my popcorn! ;-)

A Nanny Moose's picture

What ever happened to mud/oil wrestling?

logicalman's picture

Brought up both my kids to be interested in everything and choose a life path that makes them happy.

Daughter is an artist, son is training to be a chef - he's already an artist with food.

They are both talented (this is not parental bias, I can assure you) and work hard to get better at what they do.

I think they stand a better chance of success (success should not be defined by others, but by oneself) than most people out there who have swallowed the "normal" myth, for want of a better term.


Thomas's picture

Chasing your dream and skill set is always a good idea. If you can figure out what you love to do, all you have to do is find a way to get paid. (Enter the prostitution joke.) My problem is not with kids like yours (they will be fine), but the ones who phone it in and/or then are unwilling to start at the bottom. A college degree gets you a start, not a promotion.

Thomas's picture

I just realized that maybe the bashing of that post is because of the CFR. I ask him about it. His answers are provocative to say the least, but they do not describe an institution quite like the one frequently discussed on blogs I love to read.  

NOZZLE's picture

There are how many Per Se'$ and how many per Quod'$ where these dummies can find dead end jobs?


Thomas's picture

I read a lot of biographies, and one thing that comes through clearly is that there are no dead end jobs. There are people who stop. Generally, no biographies are written about the latter group.

Tall Tom's picture

The tips for these waiters is not paid entirely in cash.


You can be assured that the patrons will give their waiters tips on insider information.


That is where the real money will be made.


Of course the kickback will be obligatory.


How was your fillet and lobster tonight, sir?


Is there anything else that you desire?


Okay I will put the $100,000 "tip" into AAPL. We split the profits? I understand, sir. You prefer cash? Yes sir.

Promethus's picture

My first New Year's resolution of 2014 - DON'T LISTEN TO TIPS.

lordbyroniv's picture


Central Bankster's picture

College, where you learn how to be a serf.  The process of being submissive and polite with the carrot that someday all of your work *might* be rewarded.  But we all know due to demographics and the size of our unfunded obligations, its all based on a lie.

Offthebeach's picture

Napoleon said he could rule men by awarding bits of ribbon. They didn't have fancy printed wood pulp with cardboard wrapped in vinyl in those days.

U4 eee aaa's picture

So it takes four years to learn how to show someone to a table and pull out a chair?

Thomas's picture

If you are to someday manage your own a hospitality-based company, having spent time in the trenches is probably a real benefit. The kids who think they will simply walk straight into a management job at the ripe old age of 22 are the ones who are missing something.

booboo's picture

Waiter Terminators may be arriving soon at Darden, just bus boys, cooks and the manager sweating like a dog shitting razor blades left to contend with, it will be a short lived boom for decent waiters.

logicalman's picture

When everything is done by unpaid waiters, what will the economy look like?

TPTB are a bunch of dumb fucks who can't even contemplate the long term imacts of what they do. They can only hold sway using lies and violence.

Time to say Fuck, no!

A Nanny Moose's picture

Nominal wages are a strawman. The purchasing power of the currency in which those wages are paid, is the real issue.

Gankfest's picture

Ridiculous... Not what you know, but who you know!

Ignatius's picture

...and a chance -- just a chance, mind you --  to piss in Lloyd's or Jamie's soup.

nmewn's picture

Just to show how unscrupulous and mean I can be...

I was once a line cook in a huge family owned restaurant. Back in the day, there was no such thing as "meal tickets" for employees, as long as they didn't get prime rib every night, it was cool, it was a perk for working a low pay job, aimed mostly at the waitresses, busboys & dishwashers as cooks can get away with eating

Well, the owner must have talked to an accountant and the next thing you know...meal tickets were mandatory for ALL EMPLOYEES.

Now, the head turd had a smaller turd (a nephew named Nathan) who "worked there"...note the scare quotes, he showed up to show his ass most of the time.

So he comes strolling up to the window after a real busy night and says "____ cook me the biggest porterhouse ya got back there." I said, where's your meal ticket?...with my usual wry smile ;-)

He freaks..."My family owns...blah blah blah...I'll have your job...blah blah"...he relents and goes and gets one & throws it through the window.

You know what happens next.

I picked out the biggest, fattest porterhouse they had, called him over fr his approval (he seemed satisfied with the steak selected and my new found humility)...

....AND...when he headed back to his table...right across the slippery kitchen floor it went, up underneath the deep fryer (had to fish it out with a broom)...then, to the garbage can, rustled it around in there for a minute (Ickbol, a Paki, thought I'd lost my mind)...then on to the grill.

He said it was the best steak the ever had when I asked...the waitresses thought so too ;-)

nmewn's picture

And completely true (besides any real names), the waitresses, busboys & dishwashers thought it was funny as well.

“Remember this. The people you're trying to step on, we're everyone you depend on. We're the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you're asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life.

We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact. So don't fuck with us.”

Fight Club was around before there ever was, Fight Club ;-)

A Nanny Moose's picture

Fantastic segue to The Mother Of All Fight Club references.

I never had the balls for such antics. Then again, we never saw snooty types at the local Shakey's Pizza parlor. Just a few Dead Heads trying to buy pizza with a pocket full of various mind altering substances.

Black Markytz....bytchez!

I know...dats rayciss.

WillyGroper's picture

Reminds me of someone I worked with once that was horribly abused on the phone by a customer. ALL their personal info right in front of the abusee.

Never heard how the abuser enjoyed all of her utilities being cut off on a friday as late as possible & the snail type communications being forwarded to Gnome, AK. 

Another time, same person was literally kicked in the elevator by a co-worker. This moron always left a bit of coffee in the cup & just poured fresh on top of it every morning. 

Never heard how well that lunger went down either. New nick-name, Mz Kizie.


BLOTTO's picture

'Ridiculous... Not what you know, but who you know!'


Apparently, its 'good' to know a mason.


I'll pass...

rdlem's picture

Let them serve cake!

JustObserving's picture

If there be truth in advertising, every university in America should be required to report how many of their graduates are working waiting tables.

That would immediately shut down about 40% of them and reduce the cost of the remaining by about 50%.

Yes, Virginia, you do not need a Ivy League college degree and a large student loan to wait tables.  But your professors thank you for the French wine and cheese.  And that Volvo. How was that backseat, anyway?

Thomas's picture

My older son has a hospitality degree and my younger son will by May. The older son started out waiting tables in NYC. Within a few years, he was Deputy Director of Event Managment at the CFR. His first day at the CFR he had to deal with a tantrum by the secretary of state. He met the president of Iran and Pakistan the same morning. He shot the breeze with Nelson Mandela for an hour. Pretty much anybody on the news he worked with. He started by waiting tables. You guys tend to hammer the educated. I am proud of the fact that he knew where to start and how to get there. 

NB-From a post below, I should point out that the older son's first job was as a tip-hustling pizza delivery guy. That is where he discovered capitalism: he realized that you eat what you kill.

BTW-Whoever is dissing me with the thumbs down, keep doing it. I'm bringing perspective and wisdom and you are just pissed that you didn't figure this shit out.

JustObserving's picture

You cannot keep a good man down.  

My satire is directed at the growing fascism and corruption in America that takes advantage of the young and not-well-connected.  Most will never payoff their student loans.

The middle class in America is dying faster than butterflies at Fukushima.  Every post of mine is a paean to this tragedy.

So please do not take this personally.

The best to you and your children.

Thomas's picture

Not directed at you. Just looking for a parking space.

Also, if I ever went looking for a job, I'd rather say I worked at MacDonald's than admit I simply chose to stay unemployed. 

JustObserving's picture

No offense taken.  I did not downvote you.   It's good that some do well in the hospitality industry.  Wishing you and your children the best.

If your work at McDonalds, never eat the food.  And say a silent prayer for every poor sucker who eats that "food."