I did lots of waitressing when I was younger and while I was never exactly rolling in money at the time, it taught me valuable lessons that have served me well in just about every other job I've had. Waitressing teaches you how to deal with rude people (unfortunately!), how to be exhausted and aching all over but still have a smile on your face, and how to be professional and friendly in the face of a stressful situation. It's pretty much the best base-level customer service experience you can get and you'll find that after doing it for a while your memory gets really good.
It can be really physically demanding work though, depending on the type of establishment you're employed at. I've worked in up-market restaurants where the focus was on looking perfect and doing everything in line with accepted etiquette. I've worked in busy coffee houses where it was all about making the same drinks perfectly at high speed and remembering who ordered what even when there are 50 people sitting at tables waiting for you to serve them.
I wouldn't EVER want to do it again (those days are behind me!) but I'm grateful for the valuable experiences it provided. Plus, I still make awesome coffees and can balance a tray of champagne flutes on three fingers
ROFL no, you get tipped on how well you serve them. I have worked in two restaurants. Even if you give the best service, and the food is the best they have ever had. You are not promised tips. There is no "Tip law", and sometimes, we got a nickel or a quarter as a tip. However, those were always the same people, we knew right when they came in that we were not going to get a good tip, but we did our best anyway.
It also is not only about patience. Being a server, or busser who works beside servers, you have to be fast. On top of everything, drinks, food, packing take home boxes. It is not like fast food where they order and you are usually done. You are with them from the time they get there to the time they leave, and no matterhow rude they are, no matter how tired you are from carrying tubs, heavy plates and how many lunches you have packed you have to have the same amount of energy.
Also, often a restaurant will hire you as a busser or delivery runner before you get the waiter/ess position. I have seen it in both places I worked and where my friends worked. So don't be surprised if they offer you something less first.
The absolute best job I can think of for a teenager is lifeguard, that shit pays insanely well. Especially at the college level, working at a college pool is a breeze I've been told. Colleges also tend to have job banks where you can do various jobs they need to fill on-campus, here those jobs pay well over minimum wage and they tailor your hour to your class schedule which is especially nice.
Is it better to work in retail? As opposed to food service? I suppose, in the sense that it would be better to just be lit on fire rather than cooked to death in a frying pan.
When I was a teenager, my first job was a Program Aide at an afterschool program. The kicker is, it was the same program I was in when I was a kid. I met a few good friends there and just overall had a good time. When I explained this to the manager, they were more than eager to let me on. It was a pretty decent job all around, and kept me going for a few years.
So I recommend trying to get a job in something that had a lot of influence on you as a kid.
I am pretty sure in most places if you are too young, you can have your parents sign some paperwork for you, and you can work some limited hours. (No nights, possibly no weekends.)
People tend to tip more if their waitstaff is confident, nice and helpful. Some people never ever tip because they have this weird idea that it is beneath them to do so and that waitstaff make plenty with their $3.00 an hour wage. I don't recall ever hearing anyone say they don't tip their waitstaff because the persin was young or old - mostly it is based on how you do your job. (I did have a relative who refused to tip because the waiter at a chinese restaurant was caucasian - but my family is full of weird people.)
Retail would provide a more assured income, but it is possible you might make more doing waitressing. In my experience, retail is worlds better than fast food as far as bad customers go, so I would personally recommend that, but then you may have a different experience.