What’s shakin, cocktail fans? Welcome to Episode 250 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast! I’m your host, Eric Kozlik. Thanks for joining me for part two of this audio essay, where we’ve been exploring the ways in which tipping has affected how our favorite bartenders and servers get paid.
If you haven’t had a chance to dig into our last episode, I’d highly recommend you do that because this time around, we’re going to be actually APPLYING all of that historical and cultural context we learned as we examine the fallout of some new legislation that’s taking place here in DC.
As I said last time, this is some highly politicized subject matter, and I have a bit of an allergy to partisan politics. But when something as far reaching as the overall health of the food and drink ecosystem is concerned, I think it’s well worth all our collective time to roll up our sleeves and really figure out how we can serve the people who show up to work every day and serve US when we dine and drink out.
And if I’m being honest, there’s a little part of me that really enjoys taking this time out from our breezy, boozy interviews and forcing you to eat your proverbial vegetables. We live at a moment in which polite, well-researched conversations about difficult subjects are almost non-existent. And that wears on you after a while. Right? All that noise, and so little signal…so I decided that this analysis of the recently passed Initiative 82 legislation here in Washington, DC would be a great opportunity to model a tool that’s specifically designed to identify where in a given debate you and your opponents disagree and use that knowledge to see if you can find some potential solution that might be amenable to both sides. That way, at the end of the day, instead of returning to our opposing corners of the political ring and glaring at each other until the next round, we can just shake hands and be friends. I know it’s a crazy notion, but trust me, it’s possible.
I promise you that if our political candidates used this kind of analysis during their debates and when creating legislation, we’d see a lot less slapstick political theater on TV and in the news, and we’d realize there isn’t nearly as large an ideological divide in our culture as there seems to be.
Intro to Stasis Theory
The tool I’m talking about is called Stasis Theory, and it was used by ancient thinkers as famous as Aristotle and Cicero to really get to the heart of certain complex issues. The word “stasis,” of course, refers to a stoppage of some sort. And if you use this tool correctly, you should be able to figure out where you and someone with whom you disagree can no longer make “progress” together on a given line of reasoning. Then, instead of throwing up your hands and saying, “well, I guess there’s just no reasoning with you people,” and giving up, you can determine if there might be a way to get un-stuck…to resolve the issue creating that stasis.
So in a perfect world, at the end of this episode, you’ll not only have a better grasp of the tipped minimum wage debate that’s been raging in my part of the world, and which is slated to start drastically affecting the service industry beginning on January 1 of next year, but you’ll also have a new way to think about other conversations you have on a daily basis. And when it comes to hard conversations, having more tools in your toolbox is always better.
I know learning new things can be challenging, especially via an audio medium, but worry not: I used to teach Stasis Theory as a mandatory part of the English 101 curriculum at the University of Maryland, where it is held in such high regard that every student who takes that class receives a crash course in this timeless analytical framework. So with that, let’s dive headfirst into the tangled landscape of facts, opinions, and consequences that is the tipped minimum wage debate.
FACTS & DEFINITIONS
The nice thing about stasis theory is that the first stasis – the first main category where an argument can get derailed – is the definition stasis. And that’s good for us because it means I can loop in a little bit of review information from our last episode as we define our terms.
Here’s the thing: the bigger and softer a subject becomes, the more important it is to define things carefully, and the more likely you are to find yourself disagreeing with someone on the basis of a definition. For example, If you’re having an argument with your partner or roommate about where to place a couch when you move, everybody is on the same page about what this couch is and where you’re both proposing it should be placed, so in that scenario, definitions aren’t where you need to spend much of your time. But in a debate like the one we’re looking at, definitions are crucial if you don’t want to find yourself tied up in knots further down the line.
So let’s start by asking: What is Initiative 82? What is this piece of legislation that is about to have such a dramatic impact on bars and restaurants here in Washington, DC?
Well, lucky for people like you and me, we’ve got this amazing little thing called Google, and it sent me to a nifty resource called “Ballotpedia,” which is exactly what it sounds like. This produced the ballot title and abstract, which reads [quote]:
Under current law, employers of employees classified as “tipped workers” may take a credit against tipped wages received by workers to satisfy the minimum wage guaranteed to all workers by law. The Initiative would gradually eliminate the credit, such that the mandatory base wage (currently $5.05 per hour, indexed to inflation) paid by employers shall increase until 2027, when the mandatory base wage matches the minimum wage established by District of Columbia law (currently $15.20 per hour, indexed to inflation). Tips continue as property of employees and will be in addition to the statutory minimum hourly wage.
Essentially, what this all means is that currently, tipped employees make $5.05 an hour (guaranteed), and the expectation is that they’re going to recoup the remaining $10 and change in tips averaged out over the course of whatever their pay schedule may be. Currently, if they don’t make enough in tips to meet that $15.20 hourly minimum, the employer is on the hook for making up the difference.
With the passage of Initiative 82, however, the tipped minimum wage is going to start ticking up incrementally over the course of the next 5 years so that employers are responsible for more and more of that minimum wage until it matches the DC non-tipped minimum wage in July of 2027. That’s a four-and-a-half year implementation timeline.
So, now that we know what Initiative 82 is, it’s important to ask if there are any other terms that we need to define before proceeding with our analysis — or, in the same breath, whether there are any foundational questions that can be answered in a cut-and-dry manner.
One question that I’m going to throw in here is the question, “what is wage theft?” because that’s a topic that the proponents for Initiative 82 touted as a very strong cause for this change in legislation. In the same breath, they also cite “harassment” of workers, but that’s a way “squishier” term and is a bit more difficult to define based on existing laws.
When it comes to wage theft, I think we all get the general sense: this is when bar and restaurant employees are deprived of their rightful compensation by those folks in control: by managers and employers who call the shots. But what does that look like in practice?
Here’s an abridged list of wage theft indicators that I ripped from a legal article:
- Tip Skimming: Federal law bans restaurant owners from withholding tips. If they do it in any way, shape or form, it’s illegal. Full stop.
- Illegal Deductions: Here’s a big one. Restaurant owners cannot deduct money to cover a broken dish or other property damage if the deduction brings the employee’s salary below the minimum wage, and in certain states, they also can’t deduct from an employee’s wages when a customer walks out on their bill. The ol’ “dine and dash.”
- Mandatory Service Charges – See, here’s what I love about the “definition” stasis: it often spawns MORE definitions, which render a more robust picture of what we’re talking about. This is one of those times. Because bars and Restaurants often add a mandatory service charge to their bill. So in addition to your itemized food and drink, you also have a certain percentage slapped on the end that’s non-negotiable. Because it’s often to the tune of about 20% of the total bill, many customers assume these service charges are a gratuity for the servers (which would make it more of a mandatory gratuity). BUT, here’s the thing: restaurant owners may keep the service charge as an administrative fee – or as a way to defray the cost of suddenly having to pay their workers WAY more than they used to…more on this later. But the essential question remains: if there’s a mandatory service charge on your bill, how do you know if it’s going into your bartender’s pocket at the end of the night, or is it going straight to the bar or restaurant? This seems to be a biggie.
- Finally, we have a category that I’m gonna call the “unpaid-sies.” Things that folks should get paid for, but they ain’t. This consists of:
Withholding overtime pay. Like other workers, if a restaurant worker puts in more than 40 hours in one week, they must receive time-and-a-half for the overtime hours. However, as tipped employees, restaurant workers receive special protections. Restaurant owners cannot calculate overtime wages with the tipped employee minimum wage. Instead, overtime must be based on the full minimum wage.
Unpaid Hours. For example, if an employee arrives early to open the bar or stays late to close. Just because the place isn’t technically open doesn’t mean anything. Hours worked are hours worked.
And lest you presume that wage theft is a hot new trend that the kids invented on the Tik Tok, according to Kerry Segrave, whose book, Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities, was our key historical source last episode, quote:
“By…[the 1760s], at least one unnamed master was in the habit of “sharing” the vails received by his servants and giving large parties with sparse entertainment to supplement his income.”
From this, we can infer that wage theft, as described historically by Segrave and by the contemporary legal resource I just pulled from, is what we in the business world call a “known known.” It’s around (in fact, it’s been around since the beginning), and we have rules against it. However, according to an article published less than a month before the vote on Initiative 82:
“When the D.C. Council overturned Initiative 77, the 2018 ballot measure that would have phased out tipped minimum wage, lawmakers passed compromise legislation intended to assuage concerns that the system enabled wage theft. Among other things, the law required employers of tipped workers and payroll companies to report certain wage data that would help identify whether workers were in fact being paid at least the minimum wage.
A report released Wednesday appears to show widespread noncompliance with the 2018 law. The report says most D.C. bars and restaurants with liquor licenses have not reported wage data to the city in recent years.
Their report says 35% of local restaurants […] have reported wage data at least once in a year’s time […]. [And] Only 11% of restaurants […] reported quarterly […] as the law requires.
Unfortunately, if you live in DC, it’s probably no surprise to you that we have a law in place – that should be plenty effective – but the District is simply failing to enforce that law. This lack of enforcement happens constantly here with our police – certainly for traffic violations, and very often with repeat offenders of violent crime. But apparently it has bled over to the commercial realm as well. With that in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise that wage theft seems to be the central focus of Initiative 82, despite an existing mechanism designed to combat it.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
Now that we’ve worked through some key definitions (of the legislation that was just passed, and of terms like “mandatory service charges” and “wage theft”) let’s move on to the second stasis, which is “cause and effect.”
This is one of my favorite stases because it’s the moment when you can start running little simulations in your mind. You can take all the little pieces you’ve gathered during your initial research and in your definition stasis, you can line them up on the chess board, and you can see how they might act in real life.
Of course, not all the simulations you run in the “cause-and-effect” stasis are going to make the same amount of sense to everybody. For example, you might be having a debate with someone about the legal drinking age, and they might say — giving kids access to alcohol earlier is going to result in more deaths and injuries from reckless behavior and drunk driving, And you might counter by pointing to some statistics, saying, “well then how do you explain the decreased incidences of those kinds of accidents in countries where the drinking age is lower than here in the US.”
As you can see, two people can run the same simulation (in this case, what happens if we lower the drinking age) and envision it playing out in radically different ways. So let’s try and do this with the Initiative 82 legislation, starting with the series of causes and effects that Ryan O’Leary (the person who proposed it) and his DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry are citing as the reasoning behind their campaign.
They assert that because service industry workers receive a subminimum wage, they are frequently harassed and subjected to wage theft by restaurant owners and managers. They also point to other states and individual businesses in the US that have successfully implemented more equitable wage initiatives – either by eliminating the tipped minimum wage at the business level or at the state level. And they say, therefore, to eliminate the harassment and wage theft here in DC, we (both service industry workers and patrons) should rise up and demand that this antiquated and discriminatory tipped minimum wage be abolished.
Put more simply, the tipped minimum wage leads to bad things for workers. Therefore, if we eliminate the tipped minimum wage, we will resolve these bad things.
When I look at this cause-and-effect logic, the primary thing I can admire about it is that it aims to reduce suffering. It identifies a group of people who are in a low-power position, sees that they are suffering an injustice they are powerless to address, and tries to harness the power of DC voters to come to their rescue. It’s also clear that it comes from a place of empathy, since O’Leary worked several service industry jobs and was reportedly the subject of active wage theft and harassment during his time as a server.
On the other hand, when I come across a cause-and-effect assertion that’s painted in such broad strokes as this one, I inevitably find myself asking, “is it really that simple?” and “what else might we be overlooking?”
Well if you head on over to the website for the opposing side of this debate – actually, we can just call them the losing side, now that the legislation has passed – you can see a slightly different set of cause-and-effect logic.
According to VoteNo82.com:
“Under the current system, the tip credit guarantees that servers and bartenders receive the minimum wage but enables tipped employees to earn well above that amount—about $26 per hour, on average. Initiative 82 would eliminate the tip credit and upend this system, harming servers and bartenders across the District.”
They go on to elaborate on this claim with the following set of bullet points:
If the tip credit is removed, the vibrancy of DC’s unique dining scene will be threatened.
Your favorite restaurant and bar would see a major increase in its labor costs—$11 per hour, per person.
Restaurants and bars will be forced to increase menu prices and decrease staff size.
96% of D.C. sit-down restaurants and bars are independently operated. These are the exact businesses that will be hardest hit if the tip credit is abolished.
Combined with rising inflation and skyrocketing rents across the city, it would be harder and harder for independent restaurants and bars to succeed.
Sadly, your neighborhood restaurant and bar would struggle to make it in such an environment.
Tipping helps fuel the high-quality guest service that has become a hallmark of the District’s world-class dining scene.
As you can see, we’ve got two sets of cause-and-effect simulations being run here. In one, ending the tipped minimum wage should significantly reduce suffering by raising the floor of what workers can be paid. In the other, ending the tipped minimum wage drastically increases suffering as workers earn less, bars and restaurants close because of high operating costs, and patrons receive a lower quality of service.
My primary concern with the information on VoteNo82.com is the complete absence of data for how that $26 average hourly wage across the city is calculated. I mean…it could be accurate. But as we know, 76.3% of all statistics are made up, so who’s to say? On their FAQ page, they claim that this info is pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but I poked around on there for quite a while and I couldn’t find any report that supports the $26 number. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But come on people. Cite your sources directly, and we don’t have to speculate.
They also make the mistake of using that $26 figure compared with the California minimum wage, which is around $16/hour right now, and implying that bartenders in the Golden State don’t make tips on top of that. Which is false, they absolutely do. But aside from my desire for more rigorous statistics, I can pretty much get on board with what these folks are saying. If Initiative 82 proponents are saying that wage theft and harassment really suck, and we should do something about it. The anti-82 contingent is saying…okay, but if we do that, here are all the other negative consequences we’ll be signing up for.
Where the pro-82 lobby is in favor of raising the floor on what a server can make in the absolute worst of circumstances, the critics of this legislation are pointing desperately at all the people who will suddenly make drastically less money as the CEILING on what it’s possible to make drops down in response to that floor rising up.
And you might be thinking: “wasn’t Ryan O’Leary pretty adamant that workers would also receive tips ON TOP of that increased minimum wage?” Wasn’t that the big finish to his manifesto that we read last episode?
Well…yeah, it was. But remember: the passage of this legislation is absolutely going to trigger a massive restructuring of how restaurants operate. When you combine the rising cost of labor with inflation and increased ingredient costs, you can expect to see higher food and drink prices, as well as mandatory service fees. And if you think that people are going to be just as generous with their tips when all the other costs of dining and drinking out spike dramatically, you’re crazy. That’s just not how it’s gonna work.
This brings us to the Value stasis. And in our current debate this one actually pulls double duty. Not only is this an opportunity to look at the ethical backbones of these two models of service industry compensation – but we also get to explore what it means to get a good “value” out of a dining or drinking experience. So much of what’s tricky about this topic is taking our thoughts and feelings and trying to assign a dollar value or cost structure to them, which is why I love how this ethical value stasis collides with the literal balance sheets of bars and restaurants and the pocketbooks of the dining public. It’s messy, but it’s interesting.
In a lot of political debates, if you boil everything down and address the most essential version of an argument, you’ll come to find two often-competing notions: security and freedom. It’s these two notions that tend to represent the opposite poles of many contentious subjects, and it also happens to represent two very different ways to think about money: as a parachute or safety net for when things go bad, and as a way to pursue things we really want.
People who feel at risk – who crave more security in the service industry, who simply want to show up to work without having to worry about wage theft and harassment, are seeking their security in a non-tipped minimum wage. On the other hand, people who enjoy the freedom to make a much higher wage, to move up through the ranks of the industry and work at better and better venues, don’t want to lose that upward mobility when people presumably will be disincentivized to tip well.
From where I stand, this is the central “stasis” of this debate. More so than definition, more so than any cause-and-effect assumptions, It’s this security vs. freedom question where people in one condition simply can’t understand where their opponents are coming from. The reason why I like getting to this point in a debate – this moment of greatest stasis – is because hidden in the gridlock, the inability to move forward, is very often a way out. But rarely is it obvious.
In this case, I think the answer lies in the assumption that you can only have one or the other: security or freedom, and that’s simply not the case. When I look at how this legislation has played out, what I see is a dramatic case of “oversteering” by both sides: one pulling WAY too hard toward security, and the other pulling way too hard toward freedom. And as in any classic tug of war – with the rope and the mud pit in the middle – when one team wins, sure – the other team gets covered in mud, but EVERYBODY tends to land flat on their ass.
If I were in a position to sit down with people on both sides of this debate BEFORE the legislation was proposed, the central question I would ask is how we might maximize security without completely clipping our own wings and restricting freedom. This type of thinking is very often an exercise in restraint, nuance, and creativity, rather than a project that requires brute force, heightened emotions, and dogma.
And the unfortunate thing is that negotiation isn’t sexy. It’s boring, it’s pedantic, and it requires the hard work of humanizing people you disagree with instead of just dismissing them as rubes or corrupt tycoons. The other problem is that good, well researched, bipartisan legislation takes longer to hammer out than the emotionally charged, “us vs. them” stuff.
But with that longer timeframe comes the opportunity to do better research. For example, I would have loved to see a study conducted where a group of self-selecting DC establishments voluntarily eliminated the tipped minimum wage – maybe with a safety net from the government to make sure they didn’t fail and go under – with the purpose of simply tracking tipping trends. Be very up-front with your customers about what you’re doing, then carefully observe and report how tipping changes at these places.
If a study like this were run, we’d at least be able to work some additional financial assumptions into our model that might ease the transition and allow us to prevent that ceiling from crashing down as the wage floor rises up. Or, barring that, why not hold some town halls or workshops with speakers and business owners from states or establishments who have successfully moved away from the tipped minimum wage so that our businesses can avoid some of the common pitfalls and mistakes? Unfortunately, we here in DC passed up the opportunity to have those slower, more thoughtful kinds of conversations in favor of forming teams and lobbing bombs at one another from behind our polarized fortifications.
One moment where I thought the cracks of this issue showed nicely – in terms of values vs. implementation – was in a couple of comments from voters who voted one way on this issue despite having good reason to vote the other. This is taken from a DCist article, which reads: [quote]
“Fred Finelli, 68-year-old Ward 3 resident, voted in favor of the initiative Tuesday at a polling location in Cleveland Park. He says the measure is controversial and his children, who work in the restaurant industry, don’t agree with his position. But he decided to vote “yes” because he says “it was only fair to bring everybody up to at least minimum wage.”
Andrea Ulrich also voted “yes” to initiative 82. She says she “went back and forth” because she was sympathetic to restaurants that testified to negative effects. But ultimately she wanted to address possible wage theft under the current system. “If we’re honest, though, I’d rather have implementation of existing laws rather than have these new kind of laws that are filling gaps,” she says.”
When you have people leaving polls, and saying essentially, “hey, I have really good reasons NOT to vote the way I did, but I decided to pull the trigger anyway,” it’s a pretty solid bet that you’re witnessing under-informed voters using their gut feelings to pick between the lesser of two evils.
So if there’s a takeaway from this value stasis, it’s this:
If you see this kind of legislation on the horizon where you live, try your best to have non-polarized conversations about maximizing freedom AND security so that you don’t wind up voting in a scarcity mindset and winding up with a lopsided solution enacted in your jurisdiction.
As a way to segue from our Value stasis into our final stasis, “Action,” I do want to take a moment, as I mentioned, to think about that other kind of “value” – the one where currency is exchanged for goods and services. Because – surprise, everybody! – the vote for this legislation is in the rearview, and the question of who bears the burden of this increased minimum wage is going to be the most important factor in how things proceed moving forward.
I’ll start by asking: when you dine or drink out, what factors do you take into account when you evaluate your meal or your drinks as a “good” or “bad” value?
Well let’s start with the obvious stuff: there’s the price you’re paying for the actual food and drink, the itemized price for each menu item you order. I think we all know intuitively that bars and restaurants pay a wholesale price for their consumables, and they then charge some sort of markup that reflects the labor used to process the food and drink, the fixed expenses of the venue – like rent, electricity, etc., and then some profit on top of all that. Fine. This is how pretty much every restaurant in the world works.
With a tipped minimum wage model, it’s generally understood that you’re paying for the facility and the back-of-house stuff with the food price, and the front-of-house service with your tip. This presents a pretty easy way to think about the value of your dining experience, relative to what you paid for it. You’ve got basically 4 options:
- Good food, good service
- Good food, bad service
- Bad food, good service
- Bad food, bad service
Regardless of whether you’re the kind of person who ALWAYS tips 20% or more, or you’re the kind of person who does use the tip amount to reward or punish good or bad service, the tipped minimum wage model does provide an easy and transparent way for you to think about how much you paid for what you got, and who’s going to end up with what percentage of that money in their pocket.
However, when I think about all these mandatory service charges that are going to start cropping up all over the place, I get very nervous for both customers and service industry workers. Not only will these mandatory service fees obfuscate who will ultimately receive what portion of your money, the inherently higher cost of dining and drinking out is simply going to give people sticker shock. And when you already think you’re getting screwed over by the price of the food, how the heck is that going to make you more likely to be a good tipper on top of everything else?
It actually makes me feel bad for the bars and restaurants that have already done the right thing and implemented automatic gratuities to ensure that their staff gets tipped consistently and generously. I was at one of these places just this past weekend! The staff was relaxed. They were efficient. They all seemed happy to be there. And the guests were happy to simply pay the auto gratuity and know that they were getting a good value.
Soon, though, the constant question is going to be: “where are we in the implementation timeline of Initiative 82?” How much does that mean the minimum wage was increased? Ok, so we’re up to $10 an hour. Oh and by the way, how much was the service fee? And if they’re getting paid $10 an hour and there’s a 20% service charge, then what’s a good tip? And did I even get good enough service to justify that tip?
The boats that had already raced ahead of the fleet to do the right thing and pay their people well are going to get caught up in this storm of suspicious confusion, and I know that most of them will find a way to communicate with guests how to think about tipping, the presence of mandatory service fees is going to make that very emotional calculus much more difficult than it used to be.
The action stasis is, in this case, a bit of an epilogue to the tipped minimum wage debate, at least for us here in Washington, DC. The question isn’t so much, “what decision do we make based on all this information,” as it is, “what do we do now that we’ve made our decision?” For the most part, all I can do here is point back to the definition stasis, where I read out the summary of Initiative 82 and its rollout timeline. That’s what we do. That’s the plan now.
But I think this might be a good time to go through a couple very unique, specific-to-DC reasons why I voted no on Initiative 82. Because I’m not opposed to folks getting paid more. In fact, if I had the option of simply voting for my friends in the industry to make more money, you know I would vote for that every chance I got. What I’m opposed to is creating more suffering than currently exists in the world. And when I compared the pros and cons of Initiative 82, there’s a couple very specific things about DC that made me pretty certain its passage would create a whole lot more suffering than it prevented.
The first is: we’re surrounded by 2 states, Maryland and Virginia, and both of those places are still operating based on the tipped minimum wage model. Because DC is so small, it was kind of easy before to think about places like Bethesda and Arlington, and Alexandria as extensions of the DC food and drink scene. But now, with the tipping rules being so different, DC is going to be the odd one out – it’s going to be the place where it’s more complicated to get a good value on your meal. So you know what? Let’s make a reservation in Arlington or Bethesda and skip all that hassle. It’ll take us the same amount of time to get there.
If Virginia or Maryland had already established a law like this, then DC would be joining a growing movement, rather than presenting itself as the exception to the rule. And as a very small city with boundaries that currently have almost no current impact on the quality of the dining experience, this is a very important distinction. Because suddenly, those boundaries are going to represent the difference between where it’s easy and fun to dine out, and where you have to constantly wonder about the value of your food, drinks, and service.
If you live in a big city like San Francisco, for example, that isn’t impacted by the laws of bordering states, then maybe this worry might not play into your reasoning at all. Unfortunately, here in DC, it’s a very real factor we have to consider.
This leads to my second, very much connected concern, which is that we just functionally raised the price of owning and operating a restaurant in DC. And as much as we can despise those restaurant owners and bar managers who are committing wage theft and harassing their employees, I think it’s absurd for anyone to assume that all restaurant owners are bad people and should be punished by shouldering an even greater burden in an industry with famously thin margins.
So in addition to increased food prices and mandatory service fees, you’re going to see people looking to Maryland and Virginia to open up their next innovative concepts (this is already happening). And because those places are right over the border – like RIGHT OVER THERE – why would any restaurant owner volunteer to make things harder on themselves if they didn’t have to?
The consequence, I imagine, is going to be more chains and franchises moving in to fill the voids left by the independent restaurants and bars that have moved elsewhere, and instead of being a centralized hub, a brilliant node of innovation and style that radiates its goodness outward to positively impact the food and beverage scenes in our thriving suburbs, DC may eventually become more like a wound or a cavity, where you get bad service because everybody here is stuck making minimum wage and working for national franchises and big restaurant groups – i.e. the only ones who might still afford to operate here.
I should note that there is a good deal of conjecture in what I’ve said. None of it is set in stone. It’s like Frodo looking into the Mirror of Galadriel. I’m talking about things that were. Things that are. And some things that have not yet come to pass…
But the moral of the action stasis is this:
For venues who are going to try and fight this out and remain in DC, you need to think long and hard – and perhaps try to come up with collective action that will make it easier for your guests to understand the value they’re getting from their experience at your bar or restaurant. Be MORE transparent than you think you have to. Join together with other venues in your area and create a hashtag or visible signage, or consistent language on the bills you hand your guests that helps them understand what they’re paying for and how much of it is going into the pockets of your tipped workers. This is one of the only ways I can think to combat the confusion that will prevail over the course of this 4+ year implementation timeline.
And for those of you who are listening to this in a state that may someday consider making the switch away from the tipped minimum wage…cool! I think that’s great! It is a wonderful and noble thing to want to pay people well for taking care of us when we dine and drink out. But you may want to keep an eye on how things progress here in DC. And if you have the chance to have slow, thoughtful, non-polarized conversations before legislation hits the ballot, I think you might be able to avoid some of the negative consequences that I think we’re about to experience.
Remember – things in your neck of the woods will likely look very different than they do here in DC. So do your homework. Consider how you might maximize both security AND freedom instead of oversteering in either direction. And most importantly, LISTEN to the people who are working in your favorite bars and restaurants and please try to vote compassionately so that their lives receive a net positive impact from your participation in our democracy.