Most waiters and waitresses never paid salary in Yerevan

The people who smile at you and serve you and try to make you comfortable in hundreds of outdoor cafes, cafeterias, restaurants in Yerevan – several hundreds of waiters and waitresses in Armenia, most of them young, good looking boys and girls are usually not paid a regular salary in Yerevan.

Instead, they have to rely on tips, or the so-called ‘tea-money’ to make a living.

I first heard about this on a TV talk-show program. Throughout the past month I’ve been asking the waiters I’ve met in various locations in Yerevan – and they have all confirmed this.

Clearly, it isn’t so bad if so many good looking and apparently quite well educated boys and girls (most of them speak at least 3 languages) prefer that profession.

However, there are several points that make me uneasy:

  1. According to Armenian employment legislation they must be paid some kind of salary. So if all those waiters and waitresses are not paid a regular salary, that means the cafes, cafeterias and restaurants employing them are manipulating figures – which is a crime and should be punished.
  2. There is usually a charge for service – 10% included in restaurant bills. I always thought that is for the waiters, and sometimes I felt I didn’t have to leave any tip. To my surprise – this is also not for the waiters – they never see anything of that money. So now – going to a restaurant, cafeteria, I am feeling more obliged to leave more money… which puts an additional pressure on me… I kinda hate that feeling – because while in the past I considered tip as a way to award good service, now I’m feeling obliged to leave a tip – and a bigger one at that. And feel guilty if its not big enough… and big enough is such a subjective thing… etc, etc, etc…
  3. Bastards!!! The restaurant owners have all that money and they build all those huge buildings and they don’t want to pay anything! What is this? I’ll become a marxist-leninist if I keep feeling like this 😀
Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. As far as I know in some places they even have to share these tips with their managers as well.

    1. Yep, that was also one of the things I was told.

  2. In the US the servers get paid a small amount of salary plus the tips. The minimum wage here is $7.20 an hour, and the servers get paid something like $2.00 an hour by the restaurant. Some wait staff (waiters, waitresses, barkeeps, etc.) can make up to $40,000 a year in tips and because it’s cash, they sometimes dodge income taxes (a serious crime but not very enforceable).
    Since this is a well known fact in the US, the norm is to leave at least 10% in tips. If the service is better than horrendous (like pubic hair in your food) then the percentage rises. It is supposed to be an incentive mechanism for good service. that’s why the servers will buzz around you and pester you to see if you are doing OK.
    In Armenia it is not a well known fact so there needs to be either an education on TV or see if it really is legal to not pay a salary.
    In Europe, wherever I have been, the tips are not expected since the waiters are paid a salary.

  3. In the US you will not find a single waiter that is paid less than the minimum wage ($7.25/hour), unless of course it’s a small mom and pop shop and the owner of the restaurant cheats which they will not get away with too long. None of the major restaurants or franchises in America are able to get away by paying less than $7.25 per hour and it is common that the waiters keep their tips. Being a waiter in America can be a lucrative job, that is why many educated people work a waiters while trying to get other careers started such as acting.
    The waiters in Armenia should start a union and demand better pay and of course their rights to tips.

    1. I don’t know about the $7.25 an hour. A few people I’ve known who were waiting tables while in college got $2-something plus tips. I highly doubt that they have changed the custom in the past few years.

    2. nazarian is absolutely right about waiters in the United States being paid by their employers next to nothing, a symbolic sum. waiters in the US make their money off tips

  4. According to a friend, this is not always true:
    “I used to own a pub in Yerevan and know the details:
    Most of the restaurants, bars and clubs pay a regular 3000-5000 drams per day plus tips. Sometimes waiters make more money than managers! It is true, as a manager has a regular AMD5000 a night and no tips.
    I knew bartenders who made much more than that.
    However, most of the summer cafes do not pay salaries. Some of them pay a thousand or two per night depending on location, etc. But you know what? Waiters and waitresses make at least 20,000 from tips. Well, $55 a day (working at least 14 hours) is good money in Yerevan 😉 Bartenders in cafes are paid fixed salaries and get the tips from the bar.
    Don’t believe waiters always….sometimes they do that (specially with diasporan and tourists in general) to get tips… a lot of tips!!!”

  5. It’s not correct to generalize the situation. I own a cafe, restaurant & a fast food place.
    I know many other restaurateurs in Yerevan who pay decent wages to all their employees. At our establishments as far as waiters are concerned, we pay them a symbolic monthly wage, 100% tips (many establishments withhold a % for breakage) plus percentage from total revenue plus 2 meals and a ride back home. As far as I remember the worst monthly salary was a couple of years back and it should have been around $700 US best month toped at $1200 US per waiter.
    By the way complaining is a way of life for Armenians let alone for waiters.
    I bet you the waiters you’re mentioning about in NY probably smoke off their shoes by running around providing service, whereas many of our waiters here can be found at the back entrance or some corn of the cafe or restaurant puffing away smoke or gossiping about the client who didn’t leave any tip.
    What annoys me most about my waiters and employees in general is that their salaries are never enough, yet during casual conversation you hear such things like “can you provide me with a recommendation letter, I want to apply to the bank for a lawn to buy an LCD, like the one you got a month ago. Oh by the way how much was it? Ok, $1500. Hmmmm…. I think I can manage it…….”
    Funny, they want to lead the life I do…..
    Yeah, well open up your own business, invest $$$.$$$, deal with tax people and the rest……
    Give me a break, and don’t feel too bad for not leaving huge amount of tips.

  6. “Don’t believe waiters” Really?
    I was a manager in an Armenian restaurant, and true waiters were getting paid… 2000 AD a day. If you call it a salary for a 14 hour job, than you don’t know a damn thing about waiting in Yerevan. Of course getting tips adds up to that salary. But what about the days, that you only get cheap customers, or no customers at all. And sometimes waiters have to share their tips with the bartender or Metr’D. So please tip the waiters, and don’t feel bad about it at all.

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