Column: It’s time to do away with tipped wages this November

As a restaurant server, I always say that my most useful advice is to never look at what any customer tips you until your shift is completely over. When I first started serving, I fell victim to the excitement of seeing how much every guest tipped me the second they left, until I realized that a bad tip ruined my mood and affected my attitude with the next guests which then caused them to tip poorly too. Now, I know to check my tips once I am walking out of the restaurant and instead be upset on my walk home if the money I made was not enough for me – which happens often. On incredibly horrible days, I walk away from a dinner shift with less than $100 after being there for six hours which averages out close to the D.C. minimum wage: $16.10 an hour.

This June, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that D.C.’s minimum wage for tipped workers, including mine at the restaurant North Italia, increased from $5.05 to $5.35 an hour, effective July 1, 2022. Meanwhile, the rest of the workers in D.C. who don’t make their living off a pile of tips make $16.10 an hour at a steady rate. While this increase is a good step in theory, D.C. should abolish tipped wages altogether because the unpredictability of relying on tips is disruptive to a sustainable lifestyle. Paying tipped workers a livable minimum wage, which is close to $23.00 an hour, would provide a steady income for workers, improve restaurant work ethic among servers and free workers’ salaries from the hands of customers deciding how much to add onto their already expensive dinner bills.

Even though tipped wage is meant to even out to the state’s minimum wage in the end, the inconsistency and unpredictability is not sustainable. Instead, politicians, D.C. residents and service industry workers should support Initiative 82, an item on the November ballot that would increase tipped wage over the next five years until it matches the standard D.C. minimum wage at $16.10. Paying tipped workers a minimum wage is necessary for them to have a reliable income, as everyone deserves.

Support from constituents readily exists since 55 percent of D.C. voters passed Initiative 77, an initiative from 2018 that is identical to Initiative 82. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council repealed Initiative 77 because they feared that it would raise costs for establishments which in turn would lead to fewer jobs, increased prices for customers and restaurant closures. But minimum wage is worth fighting for because of those who work these jobs to survive. As a restaurant server myself, I can speak from experience.

Whether it is the 60-year-old server who needs tips to pay for their groceries, the 33-year-old bartender who uses the money they make to support their family and feed their children or the back servers in their 20’s who are paying off their student loans, we all deserve a steady income that we can depend on and know what we will make when we walk into work. It is not fair that I know servers who fail to feed their children one night simply because people didn’t feel like tipping one time around. Sometimes, my coworkers use the money they make during a shift for the basic necessities of that day like commuting home or paying for rent. We all come from different places and have different needs, but none of that means we should rely on customers to pay our way. The restaurant that hired us and makes money off our work should be the ones to compensate us for it.

The restaurant industry fears customers will be stingier with their tips if tipped workers make minimum wage, but they already are because studies show that only 73 percent of people will always tip when they go out. Knowing I do not receive compensation for 100 percent of the work I contribute to my restaurant is very dissatisfying and unfair. It feels like a slap in the face when I give my best effort, running around the restaurant until my feet blister and giving the biggest smile on my toughest days, to make sure all of my customers truly enjoy their service and they simply do not tip. Without a tip, serving a table is pointless because I won’t make any money off of labor. Tipped wage workers should not have to completely waste their time on tables that tip poorly and instead receive compensation through a minimum wage for 100 percent of their work.

Passing Initiative 82 would improve employees’ work ethic because workers would be better motivated to do the work that does not involve serving tables. Tipped workers also polish silverware, fold napkins and restock dishes to contribute to the overall operations of the restaurant. But tipped wage means these duties go unpaid, draining our morale when we have to perform these side-work activities without other customers to assist. If restaurants paid their tipped workers a minimum wage, we would be more willing to do such side work when we’re not serving tables. Establishments would benefit greatly from paying their workers a minimum wage because employees would be happier to perform work that improves the restaurant as a whole.

As the November general election approaches, voters should vote “yes” on Initiative 82 and ensure tipped wage workers receive a real minimum wage. Service industry employees work hard enough to deserve compensation and leaving their wages up to customers who may or may not tip is simply not enough for workers. Restaurants also stand to benefit from employees that are more willing to spend their time and best efforts at their establishments. Ultimately, tipped wage workers need a dependable income and Initiative 82 would provide that.

Riley Goodfellow, a sophomore majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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