As a six-year server in Minneapolis and 24-year server in the Twin Cities, I support a pathway to raising the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 an hour. Hardworking restaurant staff should be properly compensated, and we want the city’s businesses — and the employees who depend on them — to thrive.
Given the unique pay structure for restaurant employees, it’s important that the city doesn’t impose a one-size-fits-all minimum wage on small businesses throughout Minneapolis. As many know, tips play a significant role for the income of restaurant servers. Because not all restaurant employees are tipped, it’s the right decision to make sure those who don’t receive tips are paid at least $15 an hour.
It’s important to point out, however, that most tipped employees make more than $15 an hour when you combine their base salary and tips (thanks to loyal customers). If tips aren’t recognized as part of a $15 minimum wage ordinance for Minneapolis, restaurants will be put in a difficult economic decision in which they will have to change their service model by removing tipping and instituting a service charge, transition from table service to automation, or consider relocating to a nearby city. This all would come at the expense of servers and bartenders throughout the city.
It’s clear that city leaders need to hear directly from servers and bartenders throughout the city. The recent provocative comments from Mayor Betsy Hodges that connected modern-day tipping to the treatment of slaves and the suggestion that tipped employees are under a constant barrage of sexual harassment by customers have been poorly received by the service industry.
Tips are a crucial part of income for servers and bartenders and should be counted as such. Suggesting that tipping is a sexist practice is insulting to men and women alike. It’s also insulting to our customers, who often tip extremely well for excellent service. Are we to determine from this argument that a great tip means we’re being hit on? The mayor’s most egregious reach was aligning the practice of tipping with slavery. It is an obvious effort to politically pander, and, as a community, we’re having none of it.
Raising the minimum wage without recognizing tips is sure to negatively affect all restaurant workers. It would be more difficult and expensive for bars and restaurants to hire. Positions and hours would be cut, and employees would be replaced with technology, such as tableside tablets. Existing employees would be forced to pick up the slack and would have to work even harder than they already do. The worst outcome would be a nontipping model, the thought of which brings on a collective shudder through the server industry, because we depend on our tips for our living.
City leaders, including Hodges, must not make this decision hastily. This process should be done in the spirit of inclusion and appreciation for the diverse needs of the city. It’s apparent that the mayor’s statements are based on pressure from precinct caucuses and 2017 city elections, and have been received by our industry as the kind of political posturing that doesn’t earn our trust.
We need a good, old-fashioned Minnesota compromise that raises the minimum wage to $15 but recognizes the importance and value of tips to the multitude of servers and bartenders. The livelihood and jobs of countless workers throughout Minneapolis should not fall victim to the self-serving motives of receiving an election certificate.
The mayor has said, “A Minneapolis minimum wage must do no harm.” Her proposal would do just that to our treasured and thriving community.
Sarah Norton is leader of Service Industry Staff for Change.