• Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

Despite the Negatives, DC’s Restaurant Industry Needs Initiative 82

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Nov 19, 2022


Exploitation is the status quo in the restaurant industry. It follows that any industry repair method is impossible to undertake while protecting workers and small businesses from the inevitable fallout. The current DC restaurant industry cannot support the elimination of tip credit for the same reason it needs to go: a systemized tipping culture. The recently passed Initiative 82 will help build a better restaurant industry, but it must first tear the industry down to its foundations.

On November 8, voters in Washington, DC overwhelmingly vote in favor of Initiative 82, ending the tip credit, which includes tips in the calculation of the minimum wage. Previously, employers were allowed to pay “tipped employees” a minimum wage of $5.05 (the current standard minimum wage is $16.10) as long as they make up the difference in tips. Move 82 is a functional replica of Move 77what was repealed 7-5 by the DC council in 2018 before going into effect over the same concerns many are now expressing.

In any other situation, paying workers less than the minimum wage would spark widespread public fury, and although Initiative 82 passed with 73.4% of the vote, in the days before the election seen passionate speech. That’s because the restaurant industry has a unique problem: tipping culture is a fundamental business practice.

Tipping culture refers to the social phenomenon in which customers regularly pay service workers a little extra money apart from the flat rate normally paid. American business owners claim that tips make the restaurant world go round. The catering sector is the only one where employers are only required to pay a third of their workers’ wages. With the remaining two-thirds, employers can cover the costs needed to keep their business afloat while keeping restaurant prices low. On paper, low prices make a customer’s dining experience seems cheaper and encourage tips, which make up the missing two-thirds of their waiter’s salary. The institution of tipping is the keystone of this operation. The only way to keep everyone happy in this model – workers with high enough salaries, business owners with high profits and low operating costs, and customers with low restaurant prices – is to keep the tip salary.

They are right. Initiative 82 will harm businesses, workers and customers, and it is undeniable that, given that restaurant owners are already seek to reduce their workforce, give their employees more work and raise their prices. However, this narrative conveniently clears business owners of their role in any potential downside of this business model and refuses to say that restaurants can and do operate in states without the tip credit. He assumes that whether or not customers tip depends more on restaurant prices than on social conventions and the quality of service rendered, an argument that falls apart when one realizes that people do tip. in cheap and expensive restaurants.

Not to mention that this notion gives the immediate negative effects of change primacy over long-term benefits as a means of justifying the obstruction of the workers’ rights movement.

For employees, under the weak lure of quick money from a big tip lies a world of instability and abuse that must be navigated to stay afloat in our capitalist society. If a job with such barriers is better than no job at all, getting out of the service sector is particularly difficult. Worker compliance within this system enables further exploitation.

While servers are typically part-time employees, even full-time servers at district minimum wage are only guaranteed to bring in $214 a week directly from their employers before taxes. Everything that follows is guesswork and chance. Restaurant activity, customer personality and biases, and employee physical health are some of the many variables in the equation that make adequate pay unpredictable. Only about 35% of employers Track income from their servers as they are legally required to do, making it possible that some workers simply don’t earn minimum wage.

Although servers are predominantly female, male servers have higher overall earnings – female servers made 87 cents to the male server dollar in 2021. Additionally, the wage gap between color servers and white servers is, as in other industries, important. Disabled workers may also find it difficult to provide typical “tilting service” due to the physical demands of working in the restaurant business. Visibly gay workers may also face tipping discrimination because of their appearance. Workers’ income should not be determined by the client’s personal biases. Yet they face precariousness: in the District, 31.7% of tip workers are parents; 11.6% live in poverty. 38.8% are twice below the poverty line. Initiative 82 won’t end discrimination, but the measure will reduce the number of ways it can affect workers compensation.

Tipping should be a bit of extra cash to take home, not the basis of a livelihood. But the application of this standard can still have a negative impact on workers. The demise of Initiative 82 will put pressure on companies already struggling after the pandemic. Hours will be cut, workers will be laid off and businesses will be forced to close or raise prices sharply to offset labor costs. Those who are not laid off will struggle with understaffing and overwork, while those who are will struggle to find other employment. But what is the alternative? Allow workers to continue to suffer under the current system?

Purely positive systemic change is an unattainable ideal.

To make progress in the workers’ rights movement, we need to be realistic, and DC voters were: most DC voters chose to enact initiative 82. While the immediate effects of the bill may harm the people it was meant to protect, there is no escaping the consequences when attempting to dismantle such a widespread business practice and rooted. Restaurants don’t have to operate under tipping culture forever, and Initiative 82 will make sure they don’t. Right now, the restaurant industry is too flawed for Initiative 82, but it needs it, wrong.

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