Let CT restaurant employees keep their tips

Original Article: https://www.courant.com/2023/05/01/christy-petriccione-let-ct-restaurant-employees-keep-their-tips/

  • Author: Christy Petriccione

  • Publication Date: May 2023

  • Newspaper: The Hartford Courant

The Senate is likely to vote on S.B. 1177 any day now, a bill that would cripple restaurant employees’ livelihoods forever. As a former server growing up in Connecticut, I’m concerned that eliminating the state’s tip credit will do more harm than good for hardworking restaurant employees.

Serving not only provided me with extra income during my high school and college years, but it taught me foundational skills in customer service and communication — two things I use today in my full-time career.

This isn’t just my experience. Servers and bartenders across the country value the core competencies and income they earn as restaurant employees. Many have begun fighting back against interest groups trying to eliminate state tip credits in an effort to save the tip income these jobs provide.

This past fall, a Portland, Maine, ballot measure to eliminate the tip credit was defeated by nearly 20 points after residents listened to restaurant workers instead of out-of-state activists. Other blue states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island have similarly acted to preserve the tip credit.

Under the current system, Connecticut allows restaurant employers to count tips toward the full minimum wage requirement. This allows restaurants to offer more tipped job opportunities where employees can earn significantly more than the minimum wage on a flexible schedule alternative to a traditional 9-to-5 job.

If tips and the base wage don’t equal the full minimum, Connecticut state and federal law protects workers by requiring employers make up the difference in wages. That’s a rare occurrence: In fact, a survey of Connecticut restaurants found employees are reporting up to $33 an hour for wait staff and $38 for bartenders with tips factored in.

In other states and places where the required minimum wage for service staff is hiked drastically and tips are not counted, restaurants are forced to adapt their models to ensure they stay afloat. Take Washington, D.C., for example.

The District of Columbia has enacted a tip credit elimination law to be effective starting May 1. In anticipation, restaurant owners are already warning of staff layoffs, higher prices, and automatic service charges on customers’ bills.

All of these may be band-aid solutions to rapidly rising costs, but risk scaring away customers and reducing the tips employees actually get to take home.

Eliminating Connecticut’s tip credit will similarly cut into earnings for servers and bartenders. Recent data from Toast on restaurant transactions found states that scrapped the traditional tip credit system had some of the lowest tipping percentages in the nation. This is backed by research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Cornell University.

What does this mean for Connecticut’s servers and bartenders? A once profitable job could turn into another flat hourly wage position. Economists from Miami and Trinity University estimate that tipped employees could lose $7.9 million in earnings statewide.

If enacted, this bill will also force more than 2,000 restaurant employees completely out of a job. University of California-Irvine economists find every one-dollar increase in the required wage for tipped restaurant employees could cost up to 6 percent of tipped jobs.

Ultimately, passing SB 1177 could force beloved restaurants and bars to close their doors for good. Harvard Business School estimates that for every one-dollar increase in the tipped minimum wage, restaurants were 14 percent more likely to shut down.

For years, serving allowed me the opportunity to fill up my gas tank, buy books for college, and connect with customers and co-workers on a personal level. Connecticut was my home for 21 years, and the foundation I built in my restaurant jobs brought me to where I am today. It would be a shame for others to lose out on this opportunity.

Connecticut’s tipped employees aren’t asking for this. In fact, the current flexibility of the industry is what attracts so many to these jobs in the first place. Senators should listen to employees over activists who won’t be around to clean up the mess they created.