The waiters with 2 seat tables in their area get more tables.
The first and last seatings aren't full. Granting many with 'scheduled seatings' only have two seatings, those are generally full.
Several hours? 90 minutes to 2 hours. If your spending more the 2 hours in a fine dining type place you are spending more then $200. I'd assume about $50/course.
There is in fact a working meritocracy in wait staff. It takes years but good ones get to good restaurants and make good money.
If theirs a 'Ritz-Carlton' in your town there is at least one restaurant that averages over $200/person. Many are trying to go euro style and just add an 18% gratuity, in places where they can get away with it.
Working the #s for normal 'nice restaurants' isn't that bad ether. Lower prices, but more customers to the waiter and shorter meal times. Not six figures but a nice living.
Even family style places are a decent living. Much better then minimum (unless the place is dead).