I’m a tipped server. Mayor Johnson’s restaurant minimum wage plan could ruin my livelihood.
Author: Destiny Fox & Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: September 2023
Newspaper: Chicago Sun Times
I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was born.
That’s only a slight exaggeration. My mom worked in the service industry for much of my childhood and provided a good living for us doing so. I chose to follow in her footsteps. Today, my tipped earnings don’t just allow me to survive — they allow me to thrive. Recently, I even moved downtown, thanks to the dependable income I earn as a server.
So it’s with deep concern for my livelihood, and the livelihoods of my friends in the city’s restaurants, that I oppose Mayor Brandon Johnson’s proposal to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
For readers who have never worked in a restaurant, here’s a primer: The minimum wage in the city of Chicago is $15.80 an hour. Servers and bartenders can be paid a slightly lower base wage of $9.48 but are still legally required to earn at least the full minimum with tips included.
Typically, I bring home two to three times the city’s required minimum wage on an hourly basis. I’m not an outlier: A recent Sun-Times article reported survey results of Chicago restaurant workers. The survey found workers earn an average hourly wage of $28.48 an hour.
Mayor Brandon Johnson and his allies on the City Council want to scrap the current tipping system in favor of a flat minimum wage for all workers. Essentially, I would be treated the same as a cashier at Burger King or a clerk at Kroger — rather than as the tipped professional that I am currently.
They claim this policy change will have no negative impact on my earnings, but I’ve done my research, and I don’t buy it.
Consider Washington, D.C., which recently implemented the same policy for which the mayor is advocating. The changes have been both swift and severe: More than 150 restaurants have scrapped or modified the tipping system in favor of a “service charge,” which is not a tip but the property of the restaurant.
This change has been necessary because it’s one of the few ways owners can adapt to the new system without charging eye-popping prices for food. But it comes at a cost: Diners don’t like it, because they feel forced to leave a specific amount; tipped workers don’t like it, because many guests are not tipping on top of the service charge.
In other words: Servers are left with less take-home pay than they had before this new policy that was supposed to help them.
Of course, not all restaurants will be able to adapt to a service charge environment. That same Sun-Times article reported that 66% of restaurants in Chicago would reduce staff, and roughly one in four would close at least one location, according to the survey. This, too, is happening in Washington: One owner said, “I’m not opening any more restaurants in D.C.”
I’m upset that this legislation is moving quickly without input from tipped workers like me. The council is under the false impression that I am abused and mistreated in my restaurant. In fact, I am empowered, and it’s my tips and the tipping system that empower me.
Before they go fixing something that doesn’t need fixing, I would invite them to my table for a good meal and a serious conversation.