Deciding how much to tip your waiter can be a source of confusion and even anxiety. Is the tip meant to convey appreciation for good service, or are you helping pay the waiter a living wage? D.C. decided last week not to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, but tensions remain between some restaurant workers and owners. We learn how the current system works and explore the debate over the role of tips in the restaurant world.

Guests

  • Pete Wells Restaurant Critic, New York Times
  • Jeremiah Lowery Research and Policy Coordinator, Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, DC
  • Andrew Kline Legislative Counsel, Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington

Transcript

  • 12:22:01

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Food Wednesday and deciding how big a tip to leave your waiter or waitress can be confusing and even anxiety provoking. How good was the service? Was your waiter attentive, helpful, prompt? Or should any of that matter? While restaurant patrons generally view tipping as a way to leave something extra for their servers, tips are more than just a token of appreciation. Restaurant owners and workers alike rely on tips to balance the budget from the small ethnic eateries to the big, fine dining establisments.

  • 12:22:32

    MR. KOJO NNAMDILast week the D.C. Council considered a plan to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which would change the calculus for tipping, but the measure did not pass. Still, the debate continues over the role of tipping in the restaurant industry. How do the economics and the ethics of the practice affect those of us who eat out and those of who buy and serve the food? Joining us to talk about this in studio is Jeremiah Lowery. He is research and policy coordinator with the restaurant opportunity center of Washington, D.C. Jeremiah Lowery, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:23:06

    MR. JEREMIAH LOWERYThank you, Kojo. It's an honor to be here and actually see you in person, you know, because I listen to your show all the time.

  • 12:23:11

    NNAMDIYou'll probably change your mind about that before this over. Also with us in studio is Andrew Kline. He is legislative counsel at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Andrew Kline, good to see you again.

  • 12:23:22

    MR. ANDREW KLINENice to see you, Kojo. Thanks for having me on this afternoon.

  • 12:23:25

    NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from New York is Pete Wells. He is a restaurant critic with the New York Times. Pete Wells, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:23:31

    MR. PETE WELLSWell, thank you. Glad to be here.

  • 12:23:33

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, if you'd like to join this conversation call us at 800-433-8850. How do you decide how big a tip to leave your server? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Pete Wells, first let's talk about tipping from the customer's point of view. Most people understand that the norm is to tip 15 percent of the bill, a little more if you're especially happy with the meal and the service. How did tipping start and how did 15 percent come to be the norm?

  • 12:24:05

    WELLSOh, you have to start with a question I can't answer. Okay.

  • 12:24:10

    NNAMDIGo back in history a couple of centuries.

  • 12:24:12

    WELLSRight. Well, my understanding in the U.S. is that it started on the Pullman cars, where the porters, I believe, were not given any salary. And they survived on tips. And that was sort of the way it really got underway here in the U.S.

  • 12:24:35

    NNAMDIWell, it's my understanding that it may have originated in 17th century England.

  • 12:24:41

    WELLSI think that's the using the origin of the word, tips, correct?

  • 12:24:45

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:24:45

    WELLSYes.

  • 12:24:46

    NNAMDIIt meant to insure promptitude because drinkers would slip money to the waiters, but how did 15 percent come to be the norm for it here?

  • 12:24:53

    WELLSYou know, I don't really know. I mean, it's a cultural norm that is sort of -- it's certainly not legislative or mandated and, you know, it's not handed down by authority. They just sort of agree. I mean I've got to say in New York I think the minimum most people would think is closer to 20.

  • 12:25:13

    NNAMDIWashington, too, yes, .5

  • 12:25:14

    WELLSAnd there are people who think 20 is cheap, but, you know, it's just so strange. One of the things I wrote about when I wrote when I wrote about tipping over the summer was irrational the whole system is, that it's based on, you know, this idea of what we think we ought to be tipping, instead of, you know, what would be a fair compensation for the work that the restaurant workers are doing.

  • 12:25:43

    NNAMDIYes. For a lot of people it's a conundrum, but, Andrew Kline, explain what the law requires for tipped workers. In this region the minimum wage for tipped workers in Washington is $2.70 an hour, $3.60 per hour in Maryland, $2.13 in Virginia. If tips don't boost workers hourly pay at least up to the standard minimum wage, it's my understanding the restaurant is supposed to make up the difference. Is that the law here?

  • 12:26:10

    KLINEYes. That is correct. We have an overall minimum wage in the District of Columbia of $8.25. And a tipped minimum of $2.77. The only difference with tipped workers is, as we've discussed, the tipped workers receive part of their compensation directly from the patron. And it is the restaurant operator's responsibility to make sure between the tipped minimum of $2.77, and the tips that are given by the patrons, that it at least totals the minimum wage required by law.

  • 12:26:43

    NNAMDIJeremiah Lowery, you've said that despite that law some restaurant workers still earn less than the standard minimum wage because their employers do not actually make up the difference when tips fall short. How widespread is that problem?

  • 12:26:56

    LOWERYYes, Kojo. The Department of Labor, between 2010 and 2012, conducted an investigation on 9,000 restaurants throughout the country. And they found that 83 percent of those restaurants weren't complying with that tip credit. And after they fined those restaurants, they did another investigation on the same 9,000 and found out that over 70 percent were still not in compliance.

  • 12:27:28

    NNAMDIApparently some of them found it more economical to pay the fines than to actually obey the law. Can you give specific examples, maybe of local restaurants in this area, where workers take home less than the standard minimum wage?

  • 12:27:41

    LOWERYAbsolutely. Restaurant Opportunity Center, we work with a lot of restaurant workers in Washington, D.C. who aren't getting paid the tipped credit. I'm not going to--

  • 12:27:51

    NNAMDIYou don't want to name names?

  • 12:27:53

    LOWERYYou know, currently you've got the Clyde's Restaurant that just fired over 100 undocumented workers, back-of-the-house workers, bar backs, who came to us, who actually just put out a petition, a Clyde's worker did and also a sign on with other Clyde's workers, stating that they were not getting paid the minimum wage by their employer due to tipped credit.

  • 12:28:17

    NNAMDIYour group has been lobbying to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers here in Washington. The D.C. Council voted last week not to do that. But what would a higher minimum wage for tipped workers mean in this town for restaurant employees?

  • 12:28:32

    LOWERYAbsolutely. Currently the median income for tipped workers in Washington, D.C. is only $9.23. So there's a good section of workers who aren't getting paid the minimum wage here in Washington, D.C. Also 83 percent of restaurant workers don't make a living wage here in Washington, D.C., with 53 percent workers in Ward 7 and 8 who are living below the poverty line. What an increase in the tipped minimum wage would do, would pretty much eliminate that uncertainty for a lot of those workers who are pretty much living on tips. So customers are subsidizing their wages and tips fluctuate up and down, depending on the weather, depending on things like the government shutdown.

  • 12:29:16

    LOWERYAnd a lot of these workers are going home with only $2.77 per hour and not making a minimum wage in Washington, D.C. A raise in a tipped minimum wage will eliminate that uncertainty for workers, will give them a good base pay and good take home pay.

  • 12:29:29

    NNAMDIAndrew Kline, how do the members of your Restaurant Association feel about tipping and raising the minimum wage for tipped workers or even getting rid of the tipping system completely?

  • 12:29:39

    KLINEWell, first of all, we would dispute that there's wholesale noncompliance with the minimum wage laws, as alleged by ROC. We've looked for instances where the minimum wage is not paid. We can't find them. We would certainly invite ROC to work with us because we want to see our members in compliance with the law. And as far as we know, most of our members are in compliance with the law. And if they're not, they need to be. It would seem that if that is really an issue -- and we dispute that it is -- that merely raising the tipped minimum wage is a Band-Aid on what ROC claims is a much larger problem.

  • 12:30:19

    KLINEWe suspect if there were wholesale violations of the minimum wage law, we would hear about it, those plaintiffs lawyers that take these cases would be all over this issue. And we frankly don’t see those types of cases brought against restaurants and believe they would be if they really existed.

  • 12:30:35

    NNAMDIDoes the association have a position on whether or not the tipped minimum wage should be raised?

  • 12:30:40

    KLINEYes, we do. We oppose raising the tipped minimum wage. Our research and what we understand from our members and from tipped workers, is that nearly all make well above the minimum wage. In formal surveys of our members the minimum for tipped workers is $15 or$17 an hour. Many earn much more than that based on the tips that they receive.

  • 12:31:05

    NNAMDIHow does the association feel about getting rid of the tip system entirely?

  • 12:31:10

    KLINEOur membership is frankly split on that issue. Some of our members think it would be a terrific idea, they would levy a service charge. They can control their costs. Than can decided what the tipped workers will make, rather than the tipped workers working that out with the patrons. I think who we don’t have here today -- and maybe some will call in -- are tipped workers. Because when I talk to them about this issue, I have never seen people's faces light up more when talking about a particular system of compensation.

  • 12:31:41

    KLINETipped workers, bartenders, servers, they love the tipped wages.

  • 12:31:46

    NNAMDIWell, let me ask them to call. Do you work in a restaurant and earn tips? Call us, and tell us whether you like the tipping system or would you rather earn a fixed salary. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. If the lines are busy -- and they're filling up fast -- you can send us an email to kojo@wamu.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. We're talking with Andrew Kline. He is legislative counsel with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Jeremiah Lowery is research and policy coordinator with the--you've heard him referred to as ROC, it's the Restaurant Opportunity Center, ROC of Washington, D.C.

  • 12:32:21

    NNAMDIAnd Pete Wells, joins us by phone from New York. He's a restaurant critic with The New York Times. Pete, I think you speak for a lot of restaurant goers when you say, as you did in The New York Times, that you do not like tipping. What's your--

  • 12:32:33

    WELLSWell, no, no, no. Hold on. I don't mind it. I just don't think it's a great feeling, you know, and…

  • 12:32:40

    NNAMDIYou don't like the system. It's the system that you don’t like.

  • 12:32:44

    WELLSYeah, sometimes you feel generous, but sometimes you feel guilty or anxious. Or, you know, the whole tipping system works basically on these negative emotions, I think. Am I going to look like a cheapskate? Or, on the other hand, the people who think, boy, I really didn't like that meal. I’m going to take it out on my waiter tonight. I didn't like the way he looked and I didn't like the way she acted and I didn't like the way she dressed. I'm going to stiff her. So, you know, these are like not the kind of the positive feelings that we hope to have when we go out to eat.

  • 12:33:20

    NNAMDIWell, a lot of restaurant patrons think of the tip as an expression of gratitude for good service, but how does the tip you leave after the meal, affect the service you got during the meal or does it, Pete?

  • 12:33:33

    WELLSWell, I don't think it does. I mean, I think the tips work best for me in bars. So if I go into a bar, and on my first round, I'll tip big. And after that, I get great service. It doesn't work that way in restaurants. In restaurants, sometimes I get great service, sometimes I don't. If I'm pretty sure I've been recognized as a restaurant critic, I often get great service, but that option's not available to most people. The correlation between how much you tip after the meal and the service you got during the meal, obviously is not working the way you want it to. You want it to work so that, like, hey, I'm a big tipper, give me great service. But nobody knows that when you walk into the restaurant, unless you're a regular.

  • 12:34:25

    NNAMDIHere is Ally, in Wheaton, Md. Ally, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:34:30

    ALLYYes. Hi. I was a waiter in New York City from the late '80s to the late '90s. At the time we made $2.09 an hour. And when I first started we made mostly cash. And it was fantastic money, until about the tax time. Then it wasn’t so great. But then we didn't declare anything, so, you know, we could kind of hedge the numbers around tax time. Then by the late '90s, everybody was paying by credit card. So Uncle Sam knew exactly how much we made. Then it was terrible around tax time 'cause we'd all owe. And then, remember, at the end of the night, we're not only tipping out ourselves, we had to tip out the busboys, the bartender, the hostess and in a couple of restaurants we even had to give a portion to the manager, which was infuriating.

  • 12:35:22

    ALLYSo after the many years of enjoying the job because it gave me an incredibly flexible schedule -- so for auditioning, for actors, it's fantastic -- I realized there had to be a better way to make money. And I left.

  • 12:35:35

    NNAMDIWhat would you think would be a better way for service to be paid these days, Ally?

  • 12:35:40

    ALLYI would love to see the European system of have a service charge, make the meal what it is and pay what you pay as you do in Europe. I think it would be fantastic. And if you keep the schedule flexible for the actors, you're still going to attract actors who are fun, funny people, who like being around other people and enjoy selling. I don’t think that the owners of restaurants will lose anything.

  • 12:36:05

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call. And since you talked about what you experienced in Europe, let's--or what the system is like in Europe, let's talk with Ben, in Berryville, Va., who wants to talk about that. Ben you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:19

    BENThank you for taking my call. So, yeah, I was in Greece in the mid-2000s and taxes and a service charge of about 13 percent were included in the bill. So whatever the price was on the menu, if I had that in my pocket, I could pay for whatever it was and I knew that the person who was serving me the food was being taken care of. I think there's a lot of people that look, oh, well, we don't have to tip so we can pay the tax and pay for the food and there's no repercussions for the server. You know, they could have given great service and like the critic said, there's no way to force a tip. Unless it's part of the bill automatically.

  • 12:37:03

    BENAnd I like that method a lot better -- and then if you got great service, then you can throw in another 3 or 5 percent, but at least you know the person's making a wage that's decent and if they sell $1,000 worth of food and there's a 13 percent charge, you know they're taking home 130 bucks, which is not bad for a day.

  • 12:37:21

    NNAMDIAll right. Let me go around the table on that and a number of other issues. I'll start with you Jeremiah Lowery. How does the Restaurant Opportunity Center feel about the idea of simply having the tip included in the bill, a service charge?

  • 12:37:37

    LOWERYFirst and foremost, at Restaurant Opportunity Center our main concern is -- we don't really dwell too much in the models that a lot of restaurants choose to take up. Our position is no restaurant worker should get paid below the minimum wage by their employer. So that means that we want workers to take home a good base pay from their employer. Whatever models that the restaurant may choose to take up after that, that's up to their choice. But we want to eliminate that uncertainty for workers, you know, hopefully decrease the poverty rate among servers, decrease their dependence on food stamps by having a good base pay and making sure the employer pays them the minimum wage.

  • 12:38:22

    NNAMDIAnd, Andrew Kline, you say your members are divided on this issue of the service charge rather than the tip.

  • 12:38:28

    KLINEYes, that's correct. I think as an organization were somewhat ambivalent. We certainly agree with the Restaurant Opportunity Center that every worker is entitled to be paid the minimum wage, whether they're a tipped worker or an hourly wage worker. So that we certainly agree on. I would point out, however, that the tipped worker system -- for good or for bad -- provides one of the last opportunities for an unskilled, untrained worker to enter the workforce and quickly have the ability to earn much more than the minimum wage.

  • 12:39:04

    KLINEAnd that happens very frequently. And I hear these stories from servers that I talk to and even people in management who started out as servers or bartenders, who came into the industry almost on a lark, quickly made a lot of money and decided that this was the industry for them. So I think that that is something that should be talked about and considered when we look at whether the tipped worker system or an hourly wage system with a minimum service charge is the best way to go. It's certainly a consideration that should be looked at.

  • 12:39:37

    NNAMDIPete Wells, I'd like to discuss a couple of aspects of this with you. One comes from the caller, Ally, who said that in the days when most people were paying cash it was a lot different because, frankly, we didn't report all of the income to the IRS.

  • 12:39:50

    WELLSRight.

  • 12:39:52

    NNAMDIHow did the introduction of credit and debit cards change that?

  • 12:39:56

    WELLSWell, it's hard to cheat now. It's hard to cheat, you know, because there's a paper trail. So there is -- I'm sure it still goes on. I don't really know. But I think it is much, much, much, much harder to underreport tips. So that old incentive that sort, you know, it's illegal or incentive is pretty much vanishing now. So I think it's one of the reasons I wanted to write the piece at this time is to say that look, a lot of the old forces that were in play aren't really operating that well anymore and one of the huge incentives for tipping, which was underreporting, which worked out well for servers and worked out well for restaurants, is much, much less of a factor now.

  • 12:40:51

    WELLSYou've got to declare it.

  • 12:40:52

    NNAMDIThe other issue that Allie touched on briefly, to what extent does the debate about tipping reflect the socioeconomic mix that exist in many restaurants. How do the earnings of waiters and hosts who interact with customers compare with the earnings of the line cooks and the dishwashers who essentially stay backstage?

  • 12:41:11

    WELLSWell, typically in the kinds of restaurants I write about there's great disparity in the front of house people in general do much better, not all of them always. But in general, your certainly your main waiter at your table is getting paid a lot more than the cook. And this is something that can drive chefs bananas because chefs want to hold on to their talent in the kitchen. And they're looking at their entire payroll picture.

  • 12:41:45

    WELLSAnd they're thinking, let's cut these, you know, front of house guys making two, three times what this great cook is making and I want to hold on to him. How can I fix this? So that's one thing that's motivating some restaurant owners to look at a service charge system because they -- if they do it all the service charge, then they feel they can, you know, distribute the money in a more fair way.

  • 12:42:13

    WELLSOf course it's a -- if you call it a service charge and people are under the impression that it's a charge for service, it's supposed to go to the servers and not to the cooks. So they have to, you know, figure out a way to tell people, look, we're going to raise your prices or we're going to charge you this extra fee, but it's not necessarily going to your waiter.

  • 12:42:33

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation on tensions over tipping restaurant workers. If you have called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy and you'd like to join the conversation, what do you think about the practice of tipping at restaurants? Send us an email to kojo@wamu.org. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org and make a comment, ask a question there or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:50

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation. We're talking about the tipping of restaurant workers and the tensions that derive from that. We're talking with Pete Wells. He is restaurant critic for the New York Times. Andrew Kline is legislative counsel with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. And Jeremiah Lowery is research and policy coordinator with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, DC.

  • 12:45:13

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Elissa Silverman, journalist -- former journalist turned activist turned candidate for office. I guess she's wearing her journalist hat in this email. She said: In the end, the D.C. Council did not vote down an increase in the tipped minimum wage, it was not in the bill. Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a separate bill, which would increase tipped wage to 50 percent of minimum wage, which is the current law in Maryland.

  • 12:45:39

    NNAMDICheh had the same amendment in committee which got voted down. I guess that was what got voted down in committee. I'd like to go directly to the phones where Lisa in Washington, D.C. awaits us. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 12:45:53

    LISAHi, Kojo. It's an honor to be on the show. I'm a Washington, D.C. native and I've actually worked as a waitress in Washington for over 10 years. You know, I looked at that industry and my profession as something that I'm proud of my position and I've worked very hard to get to where I am right now in the industry. I guess my question is really for Mr. Kline. The system of paying servers $2.77 an hour, besides, you know, taking in the fluctuations of business and whatnot.

  • 12:46:23

    LISAIt's created a system where the employees are treated as though they weren't $2.77 an hour. You know, there's no getting around that. Employees are taken advantage of, tipped employees, to do extra labor. And furthermore, the managers are directly in control of how much that person makes as far as tips go. So there's also a hesitance to, you know, talk back on that issue.

  • 12:46:48

    NNAMDIHow are the managers directly in control of how much that server makes?

  • 12:46:52

    LISAWell, they make your schedule. They decide who has closing shifts, who has more practical shift.

  • 12:46:57

    NNAMDIGot you. Okay.

  • 12:46:58

    LISAAnd furthermore, they have control of the host stand and where a certain parties, VIP parties, et cetera get seated. They also decide when and who gets cut in the shift itself.

  • 12:47:07

    NNAMDIYou seem to be questioning this whole business model, Lisa.

  • 12:47:09

    LISAMy final -- yeah. My actual question for Mr. Kline is, now employees -- tipped employees are already picking up the cost, we're basically losing pay for business -- fluctuation in business as far as business volume. Now the tipped minimum wage of $2.77 had been the same for over 20 years. So as Washington moves forward, why should the tipped employees and the customers who are paying the majority of our salary, why should we foot the bill for rising business cost in the region for employees?

  • 12:47:39

    LISAWhy isn't the business responsible in 20 years for bringing a minimum wage up to something reasonable for, you know, 2013?

  • 12:47:48

    NNAMDIAndrew Kline?

  • 12:47:49

    KLINEThe law requires that all employees receive the minimum wage. With the tip system in place that contemplates that part of that wage will come from patrons. And as the overall minimum wage raises, then the amount that the servers are guaranteed is raised. If there are workers who are not being paid for training time or for other time, that's against the law. And they should be paid for that time the minimum wage.

  • 12:48:15

    KLINEAnd again, as I indicated to ROC, if there are workers who are not receiving the overall minimum wage between the $2.77 and the tips that they receive, then that's against the law and there needs to be enforcement. We have a position, the Restaurant Association, that the answer to lack of enforcement of a particular law or regulation is not another law or regulation. So, I mean, it would be our position if there are violations, they need to be corrected.

  • 12:48:46

    KLINEThere needs to be enforcement. We frankly have not seen these types of violations or this kinds of violations complained about.

  • 12:48:54

    NNAMDIJeremy, we had a caller who can't stay on the line who said one of the points we're missing here is that there's a big difference between a server who is working in a major upscale restaurant and a server who may be working in a small diner or a small eatery someplace and that that needs to be taken into account.

  • 12:49:11

    LOWERYAbsolutely. Let me first say, let me thank that last caller. She's right when she says the tipped minimum wage is getting left behind. It is at its lowest -- the real value for the tipped minimum wage at its lowest level since 1966. The -- D.C. is actually at the lower half of states when it comes to where the tipped minimum wage is. There are actually 20-some states that have a higher tipped minimum wage in Washington, D.C. and there are seven states that have no difference between the tipped minimum wage and regular wage.

  • 12:49:38

    LOWERYAnd those states have a faster growing restaurant industry than Washington, D.C. To -- I guess to address your point, there is a difference. A lot of the times the National Restaurant Association likes to throw out these facts like restaurant workers are making 90K, 100K, which isn't true. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median income for restaurant workers is $9.23.

  • 12:50:05

    LOWERYSo the majority of restaurant workers, almost 80-something percent are in those fine dining restaurants. Those are restaurant workers who are making the minimum wage, who are at those lower level restaurants and some chain establishments too like Denny's and et cetera, et cetera. But a lot of the times, a lot of the debate gets caught up in the fine dining restaurants and what those workers are making.

  • 12:50:30

    LOWERYWe're not talking about that 10 percent of the industry. We're talking about that 90 percent of the industry who aren't making the minimum wage here in Washington, D.C.

  • 12:50:37

    NNAMDIPete Wells, a handful of restaurants and New York City and elsewhere around the country have moved away from tipping, each one seems to have a different reason or a different approach. Can you talk about Sushi Yasuda in Manhattan and the owner there, his desire for a stress-less ending to the meal.

  • 12:50:55

    WELLSThat's an interesting case. From what he told me, it sounds like an aesthetic decision or combined with a cultural decision and a customer experience decision. So he sells that in -- when he eats sushi in Japan, that the service is included in the cost of the meal. And he liked that and he thought it would be more Japanese if he did that in his restaurant here. And then when I talked to him, he talked about the anxiety.

  • 12:51:30

    WELLSThe stress of sitting there at the end of this lovely immersive meal where you've just been handed one piece of sushi after another and you sort of given up control to the sushi chef who's just giving you one lovely little bit after another. And then at the end of it, not only do you have to do math, which for me is the worst torture of all, but you have to sit there and think, like, how cheap or generous am I this evening?

  • 12:51:56

    WELLSAnd how hard did my server really worked at this sushi bar? All they did was bring me water and it's just, you know, not the kind of thing he thought his customers should have to experience at the end of a meal. And so you just -- you get the check, it includes the service. You pay with the credit card, you sign it and you walk out the door. And I just saw it the other night, you know, he's right.

  • 12:52:21

    WELLSIt was really nice. It was really nice. You know, I am handing over some trust to the restaurant to fairly compensate the servers. And for this system to work, they'd have to do that. But as far as my, you know, customer experience goes, it was great.

  • 12:52:42

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Meg, Andrew Kline, who says: I'm a server at a restaurant here in D.C. and I really like the tipping system. It keeps me on my toes and pushes me to learn more about the product that I'm serving. However, I think a slight raise in the hourly wage is necessary. I've had too many nights recently when the restaurant was very slow and I've walked away with less than $4 an hour before taxes.

  • 12:53:05

    NNAMDIIn those situations I understand that the restaurant isn't making money either. However, the inconsistency makes budgeting difficult and makes the job more stressful. I know, Andrew Kline, you will underscore that that restaurant is supposed to make up the difference between that $4 an hour that she made those nights and the minimum wage on those occasions. But what do you feel about her argument that given the unpredictability of the economy that maybe some small raise in the minimum wage might be necessary.

  • 12:53:33

    KLINEWell, the point is, it's not per night, it's per week. And certainly that may be on a Monday night, but I would ask the same server what she did on a Saturday night or a Friday night that week. So it evens out over the week. Yes, there are ups and downs in the industry. Overall, as I said, I mean, our membership is ambivalent. They're split. But it does create an opportunity for those that want to make a career as a server, even start out as a server to make a lot of money.

  • 12:54:05

    KLINEThat can certainly be sacrificed in favor of a system where it's all level and everyone is paid the same thing. It seems to me, and this is personally not the association, that the tip system is really part of the American way, where if you go out and you work hard, you do well and you're paid well. And I think if you talk to many servers, they will tell you exactly that. They know at the end of the night how they did that night. And it's almost instant gratification in terms of their production of income for themselves.

  • 12:54:40

    NNAMDIWell, let's consider the experience of George in Reston, VA. George, what's your story?

  • 12:54:47

    GEORGEWell, thank you, Kojo. Thank you for having me on. I worked in the restaurant business in San Francisco in the '70s. It was a very high class restaurant. You know, you wore this tuxedo. It was a time when people, you know, that was the in thing out was to go out and dine. So I know it's kind of somewhat, you know, it depends on where you go. But we were paid definitely minimum. We were unionized.

  • 12:55:15

    GEORGEAnd I know not a lot of places are like that. But you can make a living. My brother was in the restaurant business all his life, put three kids through college and it was his profession. And...

  • 12:55:28

    NNAMDISo you got minimum wage negotiated according to a union contract? Did you also get tips?

  • 12:55:35

    GEORGEOh, absolutely. Are you kidding? Absolutely.

  • 12:55:39

    NNAMDIWell...

  • 12:55:41

    GEORGEOh, but it was very professional. I mean, a lot of these -- a lot of the waiters were from Europe. A lot of them classically trained. I was classically trained.

  • 12:55:50

    NNAMDIGeorge. George, before I ask Pete about this. How were the dishwashers and the people who work, and the cooks paid in the restaurant that you're talking about?

  • 12:56:00

    GEORGEWell, I'm not exactly sure how they got paid. But they got paid a wage as well. I mean, the whole restaurant economy was unionized. But we also had to tip out, you know, we tipped out the maitre d, the sommelier, the, you know, the busboy.

  • 12:56:18

    NNAMDIOkay. I wanted -- hold that thought for a second because we're running out of time. And, Pete Wells, I'd like you to talk about the restaurant owners who decided to impose a fixed service charge to remove the guesswork for diners and to be sure that everyone from dishwashers to waiters is fairly paid. How is that model working at Coi in San Francisco?

  • 12:56:38

    WELLSWell, right. So that's Daniel Patterson's restaurant. And one of the reasons he wanted to do that was because he couldn't convince himself that it was -- that it was fair that the market valued front of house servers more than his kitchen staff. In other words, you know, the market now left to its own devices has decided to reward waiters far more than cooks and dishwashers. And he wanted to take control back and pay people the way he thought they should be paid.

  • 12:57:16

    WELLSWhich is pretty close to equitable. I believe that everybody is getting close to the same thing. But, you know, it also gives him more control as a manager over, you know, giving away the incentives...

  • 12:57:34

    NNAMDIWe're just about out of time. Jeremiah Lowery, do you also advocate for the cooks and the dishwashers in the back of the restaurant?

  • 12:57:40

    LOWERYAbsolutely. You know, we advocate for the front of the house, the back of the house. Let me quickly say, the caller...

  • 12:57:46

    NNAMDITen seconds.

  • 12:57:47

    LOWERY...from San Francisco. San Francisco pays a tipped minimum wage of $10 and they still get tips. D.C. is still only $2.77. So...

  • 12:57:55

    NNAMDIJeremiah Lowery is research and policy coordinator with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, D.C. Obviously, this is a discussion that is ongoing. So we're likely to have him back again along with Andrew Kline, legislative counsel with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. And Pete Wells, who's a restaurant critic with the New York Times. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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