I have worked in Minneapolis restaurants for a decade now. I’ve worked on the service side of counter service, full-service fine dining, fast casual; I’ve washed dishes, been a prep cook, and managed a front-of-house staff. I know that restaurants are hard businesses to run and that profit margins are small. I also know that many folks in the restaurant industry here in Minneapolis care about people; that’s why they do what they do. They believe in their businesses and they believe in the power of breaking bread together, of hospitality; they believe in people.
For most of the decade that I’ve worked in restaurants, I have been a minimum-wage earner. The food-service industry is one of the largest employers of minimum-wage earners in Minneapolis. A $15 minimum wage will benefit the people who have invested their time and energy into making Minneapolis a vibrant city to eat and work in.
I am lucky to work in a one-fair-wage state, meaning that Minnesota uses one minimum-wage standard for workers across industries instead of a separate tipped minimum wage. This has meant that for the past decade, I have been able to count on a steady base wage. And when I’ve received tips, I’ve been able to supplement that wage.
There has been much discussion in the restaurant industry in the past year about the implementation of a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis. I have seen many restaurants (including ones with which I have worked) sign on to an idea that a $15 minimum wage — implemented over a number of years — would hurt our industry. I can understand the fear, but I think that it is outsized.
In the past few years, our industry has grown; we’ve seen a proliferation of all kinds of places from casual cafes to fancy fine-dining. In the same few years, we’ve seen the statewide minimum wage increase in increments similar to the $15 minimum-wage proposals. Our industry has also seen rents and food costs increase — especially with the emphasis on from-scratch, local and sustainable foods. Amid rising costs, we see our industry prosper.
I have been disappointed to see restaurants in Minneapolis vocally oppose a $15 minimum wage for tipped workers. I have not seen this kind of public or political uproar around rising rents or food costs, which leads me to believe that many of these restaurants care more about the food they serve than the people serving it.
Many of these restaurants claim that tipped workers in Minneapolis are already making well over the proposed $15 minimum wage. But they often forget about the vast array of tipped workers who do not: for example, baristas, counter-service staff, restaurant support staff and noncontracted delivery people. Under a “tip credit,” these workers would have to use tips, which have always been regarded as supplementary, to pay their own wage and a portion of the business’ operating costs. This is not a tip credit; it’s a tip penalty.
Tipped workers deserve a fair wage just like the rest of workers in Minneapolis. Nationally, tipped workers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers (as cited in a recent National Employment Law Project fact sheet). We need to protect our workers in Minneapolis and make sure they are guaranteed a fair wage.
I believe in our restaurant industry. I believe in the people with whom I work every day who have made it a vibrant place to work. I have seen how hard people work and I believe they should be compensated fairly. I also believe in our industry’s ability to adapt to changes and to do what is right.
I believe in One Fair Wage for all workers in Minneapolis.
Eli J. Edleson-Stein, of Minneapolis, is a server.