As a server who has worked tipped jobs throughout Minneapolis over the past eight years, I was surprised to read an op-ed from a fellow server calling for a tip penalty — a sub-minimum wage Restaurant Association lobbyists are pushing for tipped workers like me (“A note to the mayor: Those tips empower,” March 29).
I agree that tips are essential for servers and that we must preserve them. But we can’t live off tips alone — we need a guaranteed living wage of $15 an hour, too.
I’ve worked as a barista at Caribou Coffee, at a family restaurant in north Minneapolis, and in high-end restaurants downtown. I love serving customers and earning tips. But for many of us, our tips are not reliable.
On a good night, I leave with enough money to pay my bills with some left over. But on a bad night, I don’t even have bus fare home. If I’m scheduled for an eight-hour shift and get cut after two, I barely have money for transportation and food, let alone my bills. Some days I know I’m doing a great job, but only make $40 in tips. I never know how much I’m going to make one day to the next. It’s hard to pay your rent when you don’t know how much you’re going to make that month.
Tips are a great bonus, but they aren’t wages. On average, I’ve earned $11-$13/hour as a server in Minneapolis, including tips. The Restaurant Association claims the average in Minneapolis is much higher, but they must not have surveyed any of the restaurants where I’ve worked. The tips you earn as a server depend on what shift you’re working, the weather, the day of the week and the customers’ mood.
When things are slow at the restaurant, my co-workers and I compete for tables because we need our tips. After our shifts, we tip out our support staff. But some days it feels like we are fighting for crumbs. We need to make sure there is enough for everyone.
As a black woman, it’s been hard to move up in the industry. I’ve been turned down for more lucrative bartending jobs when I was the most qualified person on staff. I’ve had to deal with sexual harassment and racist behavior from customers as well as managers. Servers work hard for a wide range of customers, and we deserve our tips. But we need a living wage to guarantee a reliable income as well.
A $15 minimum wage would give my family more stability. I want to be able to grocery shop without penny pinching, to fill up my fridge without worrying about bus fare, to have some savings and a weekly budget. Without a consistent income, I’ve never been able to budget my money this way.
The fact that Minnesota is one of eight states without a tip penalty is a major reason I am able to work as a server. In Georgia, where I used to live, the minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13. No one lasts long in the service industry in Atlanta. I never knew any servers who made more than $7 an hour. My friends were being cheated and couldn’t even afford groceries. They didn’t even know the restaurant was supposed to make up the difference to the federal minimum wage. It just never happened.
According to the Department of Labor, in states with a tip penalty, restaurants fail to make up the difference to a full minimum wage 84 percent of the time. If Minneapolis adopted a tip penalty, it would effectively freeze wages for all tipped workers: servers and bartenders at high-end restaurants, baristas at coffee shops, cashiers at Chipotle and Panera Bread, restaurant workers in the back of the house whose servers tip them out at the end of the night, valets, and hotel maids. Creating a subminimum wage would be a huge step backward, and would move us away from our goal of closing racial and economic disparities.
We just want to feel equal. That means we need a $15 minimum wage plus tips. Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco have all phased in their minimum wage increases this way. Minneapolis can do it, too.
Destiny Davis is a server in Minneapolis.