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In D.C., Initiative 77 Would Raise the Minimum Wage for Bartenders and Servers. Many Don't Want It.

The national union-backed effort would eliminate tips in favor of higher hourly pay. That's "giving help to people who don't want it," restaurant workers say.

Photo by Eric BoehmPhoto by Eric BoehmIf voters in Washington, D.C., go to the polls on Tuesday and approve Initiative 77—a ballot question that would end the city's minimum wage for tipped employees and raise all restaurant servers' and bartenders' wages to $15 an hour by 2025—bartender Ryan Aston says he would actually end up losing money.

More importantly, he says, he'll probably lose the valuable, but often invisible, help that keeps busy cocktail bars humming along.

"When the cost of business gets too high, the first people to be laid off are going to be the prep cooks, support staff, bussers," says Aston, who bartends at the Hamilton, an upscale bar just a few blocks from the White House. "When labor costs become too high, I mean, it's not a charity. You're in business to make money. I love what I do, but I do it because I get paid."

And how much does he get paid? "A lot more than 15 bucks," Aston says with a laugh. Other bartenders and servers in D.C., despite making a "tipped employee minimum wage" of just $3.50 per hour, say they can pull down $350 to $450 in tips on a good night. That's upwards of $40 an hour.

Of course, not all the nights are that good. But even when things are slow, D.C. law requires that restaurant workers must make at least $12.50 an hour—employers must top-up their pay if they earn less than that much in tips. And once you understand that math, you'll understand why so many restaurant workers in the nation's capital are planning to vote against a proposal that, supposedly, is aimed at helping them.

"It's really frustrating," says Valerie Torres, who works behind the bar at District Anchor on M Street. "For an industry to have outside people determining how we are going to make our money—it's insane. There's no other industry where that happens."

Unlike other recent fights over raising the minimum wage, both restaurant owners and many of their employees have united against Proposition 77. On the other side of the issue is a union-backed nonprofit called the Restaurant Opportunity Center, or ROC, which has pushed successfully for similar laws in places like San Francisco and Minneapolis. Founded after 9/11 to help displaced workers from the World Trade Center's Windows on the World restaurant, the group has morphed into a union front. It made headlines during the summer of 2013 for staging Occupy Wall Street-style sit-ins at some restaurants in major cities.

Saru Jayaraman, ROC's co-founder, bragged in 2003 about the organization's role in helping organize the "non-union 90 percent of New York City's restaurant workforce." ROC aimed at creating a "labor-friendly climate" to pave the way for union organizing drives, the New York Post reported. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, has praised the group's work in trying to unionize service sector employees.

"Their endgame is they want to unionize the service industry," says Torres.

In D.C., the local chapter of ROC says passing Prop 77 means "tipped workers will benefit, poverty will decline, tipping will continue, and restaurants will continue to flourish."

Aston, who helped found a nonprofit, the Restaurant Workers of America, to oppose efforts like this one from ROC, sees it differently. "Everywhere they've gone, people are making less money," says Aston, talking about ROC. "If this were a good idea, we'd know by now."

The most frustrating thing about Proposition 77, says Julia Calomaris, a server at Bistrot Du Coin on Connecticut Avenue, is how often people seem to think voting for Prop 77 is helping restaurant workers.

Under a law passed by the city council last year, the minimum wage in Washington, D.C., is $12.50 per hour and will rise to $15 per hour in 2020. But the "tipped minimum wage" is different. It applies only to servers, bartenders, and other tipped employees. Currently, it's $3.50 per hour and will rise to $5 per hour in 2020. If workers don't earn enough in tips to reach the $12.50 per hour threshold, their employers are responsible for making up the difference. In other words, all workers already earn at least $12.50 per hour, but tipped workers have the opportunity to earn more—sometimes significantly more.

"People have no idea how much money you can make working in a restaurant," says Calomaris, who has worked in the industry for 17 years. Imposing a $15 minimum wage and eliminating tips is "giving help to people who aren't asking for it," she says.

If Prop 77 passes, the tipped wage system will be phased out by 2025. After that, tipped workers would earn the same minimum wage as all other workers in the city.

Bowser and most of the members of the city council—the same people who passed the city's $15 minimum wage law just last year—oppose Prop 77, WMAU reports. Only one member of the city council, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), supports the initiative.

Opponents of Prop 77, including groups like Save Our Tips (which is backed by the National Restaurant Association), warn that if the tipped minimum wage is eliminated, many restaurants and bars will be likely to institute a service charge on customers' bills. Servers and bartenders will earn less than they do now, and consumers will possibly end up paying more, Save Our Tips says, while owners of restaurants and bars may be forced to cut back employee hours and eliminate positions.

"We've got the best servers and bartenders in the world, here in the United States," says Aston. "I've been to Europe, and the service sucks. There's a reason for that. American culture lives in the bar, and it's so important that we maintain that."

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  • Earth Skeptic||

    Silly servers and bartenders, thinking they know what is best for themselves.

  • juris imprudent||

    Progressives hate the thought of a person fucking up on their and insist that everyone be fucked up together. It's only fair.

  • sarcasmic||

    Progressives want equality.

    The fact that great servers make great tips while shitty servers make shitty tips makes progressives angry.

    They are all doing the same work, so they should all be paid the same. Equal pay for equal work.

    Reward based upon merit isn't fair. The outcomes are not equal. So progressives want to shut it down wherever they see it.

  • damikesc||

    Hell, i was a shitty server.

    I still cleared $20 an hour in tips on a meh day at Olive Garden, which is just McDonalds with theme music.

  • BYODB||

    Of course, nevermind that equal pay for equal work and the concept of a living wage are impossible to have at the same time. ^_-

  • Longtobefree||

    "union-backed nonprofit"

    And there you are - - - -

  • SQRLSY One||

    Hey man! Bartenders don't want to be put out of work by too-high wage-mandates!!!

    Time is NOW to raise min-wage for lawyers and politicians both, to $10 million an hour!!! Put ALL of these leeches out of work!!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "For an industry to have outside people determining how we are going to make our money—it's insane. There's no other industry where that happens."

    If only.

  • sarcasmic||

    "We've got the best servers and bartenders in the world, here in the United States," says Aston. "I've been to Europe, and the service sucks. There's a reason for that. American culture lives in the bar, and it's so important that we maintain that."

    Tips are an incentive to give good service. Take that incentive away and going to a restaurant or bar will be like going to the DMV.

  • Rat on a train||

    Or the IRS:

    Homer Simpson: Let's see I'll have an IRS-wich withhold the lettuce, two dependent sized shakes and a FICA-chino.
    Squeaky-Voiced Teen: Fill out schedule b. You should receive your burgers in six to eight weeks.

  • ||

    Tips are an incentive to give good service. Take that incentive away and going to a restaurant or bar will be like going to the DMV.

    On a related note, NPR (as well as other sources) ran a story yesterday. Apparently Millenials are terrible tippers. More evidence of their horrible soullessness I did not need.

  • sarcasmic||

    I saw that. I'm glad I'm not a waiter anymore. It was fun, the money was good, the drinks and food were free, waitresses were gorgeous and easy... Shit. I can't come up with any "buts."

  • loveconstitution1789||

    but.... you need to spend time with us at Reason?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    but.... ObamaCare made antibiotics more expensive?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    What do you expect they started working in the Obama Economy!

  • Rossami||

    That was a crap study. They are making a big deal of the generational comparison but they are comparing apples to oranges.

    The issue is not Millenials as a generation. Their behavior is an artifact of their youth, inexperience and relative lack of accumulated wealth. Boomers (and every generation in between) were equally cheap when they were young. The study presents zero no evidence suggesting that Millenials will fail to become good tippers as they get older and more affluent.

  • VinniUSMC||

    I see you've cited a study to back up your assertion that "that was a crap study" and "[b]oomers (and every generation in between) were equally cheap when they were young".

    Oh, wait, no you haven't.

  • damikesc||

    Yet TV falls all over themselves to market to them.

  • BYODB||

    Which, notably, just bit Disney in the ass with their Han Solo movie...

  • Ariki||

    Fucken "Soy Wars"

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    According to anecdotal evidence in the college town where I live, college students have always been horrible tippers.

    The best tippers, anecdotally, are off-duty bartenders.

  • damikesc||

    Waiters were really iffy. I tip very well, but i had waiters where getting 10% was a fucking miracle.

    And, to patrons, waiters know who doesnt tip and who tends to be a dick. If you always have long waits for waiters, it means you have a bad rep as a customer.

  • BYODB||

    That's kind of odd, since technically I think I'm often included in the Millennial group but since I was a server for a (very) short period of time I always tip way over 20%.

    Perhaps it's because most 'Millennial's' haven't been servers, or worse they've all been servers? (I've often heard it mentioned that other servers are usually the worst tippers.)

  • Rich||

    "giving help to people who don't want it"

    Isn't that giving the best kind of help?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    They're servants! How could they possibly know that they need help?

  • Rich||

    ^$park¥ gets it.

  • HGW xx/7||

    The wokeness here is severely lacking. If we can't count on the proletariat in DC of all places, where can we?

    I do recall dining at restaurants in Seattle where they factored a compulsory 15% tip into the bill, so that everyone - shitty indifferent service or not - would get a piece of the forced gratuity. Oh don't worry: the text at the end of the bill informed us that we could still add on the traditional tip percentage atop the tab if we so chose.

    I chose to not eat in Seattle if it could be helped in any way. Fuck that cesspool.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Same here. When visiting Seattle, we drove outside the city limits and enjoyed a nice meal where the staff did a great job and we tipped accordingly.

    I refuse to patron an establishment that is socialist like that with the tips. I refuse to tip horrible wait staff.

  • Brandybuck||

    The best bars in the world are in D.C.. One of the few things that cesspit of a city is good at. Now they want to kill off the bars.

  • sarcasmic||

    You would think that politicians and their staff might have something to say about that.

  • ||

    The best bars in the world are in D.C.. One of the few things that cesspit of a city is good at.

    Last time we were there on vacation, we ate here. The beer selection was pretty good. However, the waitress asked us where we were from and we answered 'Chicago'. Then she asked us if we'd ever had deep dish pizza before. It felt as awkward as a gay dude trying to get his wedding catered.

  • CDRSchafer||

    The problem with DC bars is they're full of people from DC.

  • jjjjj||

    Also, they won't be able to keep from claiming those cash tips.

  • Eric||

    ^this. Any server in D.C. claiming tips in excess of $12.50/hr is an idiot.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You calling the guy in the picture with a sign an idiot?

  • CDRSchafer||

    I learned to cook pretty well and I can get beer from a refrigerator and pour it into a glass. I just saved $100.

  • Jerryskids||

    Obviously the tipped workers in DC are so brutally oppressed by their evil, greedy corporate overlords that they've developed Stockholm Syndrome. How can anyone be so heartless as to stand by and see people who so obviously have no idea what's for their own good refuse the help they so desperately need without having the basic human decency to force these poor benighted souls to accept the help being offered? It's "Compassion With A Gun™" and it's the highest form of self-sacrifice.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Looks like more and more people are starting to get wise to the fact that the Marx/Lenin/Trotsky/Alinsky/Cloward/Piven/Obama mofos are far more likely to destroy their jobs and ruin their lives than to help them. "With 'friends' like these, nobody needs an enemy!

  • Eric||

    Or maybe they are simply worried about #1...like everyone else in the world.

  • ||

    I was with this Australian guy in a bar in Winter Park, FL and after a rant to me about tipping and exploitation of the working class he said to the bartender something like, "If you were in Australia, you would be making forty thousand a year."

    She laughed and said "I make way more than that here."

  • Eric||

    If she's just putting herself through college she's right to laugh. But if bartending is her career the wage difference is likely eaten up by health care costs, retirement savings, income loss due to vacations, etc.

  • MarkLastname||

    Are you kidding? Bartending is A decent career option, especially if you don't have a college degreee. Median Income in the US is only around 50,000; if she's making more than that she's doing better than most. You also almost certainly overestimate how much cheaper healthcare is in Australia.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The national union-backed effort would eliminate tips in favor of higher hourly pay.

    I'm for it. I'm sick of the tipping culture.

  • CDRSchafer||

    I like places that do without waitstaff entirely. Submit the order at the counter, pick it up myself when it's done rather than have a waitress let it sit for five minutes and get cold.

  • CDRSchafer||

    I like places that do without waitstaff entirely. Submit the order at the counter, pick it up myself when it's done rather than have a waitress let it sit for five minutes and get cold.

  • sarcasmic||

    It is a well known fact that doctors and lawyers are the worst tippers. I used to wait tables at a shop that was in downtown where all the lawyers worked, and I hated it. The assholes in suits who I assume were lawyers were the rudest customers and worst tippers. Wasn't even worth my time.

  • Zeb||

    I can deal with tipping at restaurants. Everyone knows what's expected and the system works well to promote decent service and filter out people who aren't good at the job.

    Other tipping conventions just completely baffle me.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm just grouchy about it. Here, we have $15 minimum wage AND tipping.

    I went to a middling Mexican restaurant with a friend the other night, we each had the same burrito and two Margaritas (total of 4 between us) and the bill was $100 before tip.

    I just came back from Europe where there is no tipping. It's nice. Pay the bill, and leave.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    I'm just as grouchy, DR(P.). The tip supposedly is pay for service. The "one buck per drink" standard at a bar seems reasonable. But WTH am I excepted to tip a waiter 3x more to bring me a steak as opposed to a sandwich?

  • Rossami||

    re: "There's no other industry where that happens."

    Actually, every other industry has this happen to them. This is just the first time that your ox is being gored by excessive, counter-productive and non-sensical regulation.

  • Fats of Fury||

    Even though they are generously paid, most politicians work for tips.

  • BYODB||

    Amusingly, widespread tax return fudging on the part of server and bartenders means that their incomes are actually under reported thus the government wants to step in and 'fix' their low incomes that are, of course, not as low as reported.


    I'm not trying to say that every server and bartender lies to the government, or that lying to the government is necessarily a bad thing, but this is some funny shit. Or, at least, it would be if it wasn't so economically destructive.

  • CDRSchafer||

    How much welfare and food stamps go to people who are working jobs off the books?

  • bertwest||

    Lots.
    Unfortunately, lots of welfare and food stamps are going to folks who work "on the books" because they're not paid a livable wage.
    The livable wage - and it varies from location to location (even within any given state) is not a "minimum wage" "one dollar amount fits all for the whole nation" approach. But it's easy to calculate, and recalculation must be performed every year or two to keep up with a given locale's pricing. In this way working folks can afford to make ends meet in the immediate environment where they are working and living.

  • DrZ||

    So many well meaning people, so much collateral damage.

  • bertwest||

    As a customer, I'm insulted (I feel like I'm being extorted) by the expectation of "tipping. Personally, I've always rendered exceptional service (much more than picking up a glass and a bottle), but never worked in an industry where tipping is the practice - therefore, I've never received a tip (OK, maybe a few times).
    I'm of the school of thought where "the price you see is the price you pay (no, I'm not big on sales tax, either).
    So, my perspective is: eliminate all tipping, and pay employees a livable wage.
    Gosh, it sounds so simple. That was easy, wasn't it?

  • hackajar||

    Just stop tipping in cities where there is a high min wage. Explain to the staff that "the collective" wants this for them. If they don't like it, tell them to vote Libertarian or STFU.

    I have stopped tipping in the SF Bay Area. There is no need for it. They tell us $15 is the magic number for a living wage, so why should I give more money than what they consider a "fair wage"?

  • jm15xy||

    Tips are extortion.

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