Did you hear the pealing of the bells? Did you see the double rainbow form over New York State yesterday? Did you feel the change? Did you taste the cheap champagne when you made a toast to your fellow servers? Did you smell the honey mustard in your hair? Four out of those five sensory moments were brought to you by the fact that New York State has decided to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees from $5.00 an hour to $7.50. The change will go into effect on December 31st. This means that over 250,000 tipped employees will see an increase on their checks and it’s the first increase since 2011. (A shout out to states like fucking Texas where the minimum wage for servers is still $2.13 an hour which is what it was when I worked there all the way back in 1991.)
Most servers will be happy to hear this news because maybe, just maybe, they will get a paycheck that isn’t a negative number. You know who isn’t going to be happy about this raise? Everyone else, that’s who. Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association is one of those people crying into her plate of loaded nachos. “By rubber-stamping an extreme, unprecedented 50 percent increase it becomes hard to believe New York is really ‘Open for Business,'” she whined in between asking for extra lemons for her water and complaining that her silverware had a spot on it. Of course the Restaurant Association has the back of restaurant owners and not the servers. Owners are probably already considering increasing menu prices to pay for the raise and I’m sure the kitchen staff will now hate servers even more.
But we have to wonder what this wage increase will do to our tips. Will customers be less likely to leave a decent tip knowing that their server now makes a whopping $7.50 and hour? Will it become more and more common for restaurants to simply do away with tipping all together and pay their servers $15-16 an hour? And what if that happens? There are some servers who would be happy to earn that much an hour but there are plenty who would see that as a huge decrease in salary. And if customers decide that the new standard is 10% rather than 20%, what will that do to the level of service we give? If our wage isn’t dependent on the level service, will it be just as easy to smile and kiss the asses of those who dig into their pockets to tip us? We are on a slippery slope, my friends.
I am happy that we are getting a raise here in New York State, but I must say I don’t think I want it to go too much higher. I honestly think that if it inches towards $10-12 an hour, customers will find it hard to justify a tip. “If the girl at the Gap makes that much an hour and I don’t tip her, why do I have to tip you?” they will want to know. And the truth is, I’m not sure I would have an answer. If Gap girl carries out three pair of Easy Fit jeans to a customer and then folds t-shirts after that, how different is that from me carrying out three pints of beer to Table 9 and then rolling silverware? True, the girl working at the Gap doesn’t have hair that smells like honey mustard, but customers will argue that the two jobs are the same thing.
I don’t want to see our tips dry up. They may fluctuate wildly between good and bad, but I like being able to turn on the charm and get a few extra dollars out of a customer. It’s a challenge to pretend that I think a baby is adorable just so the mother will tip 20%, but if I don’t have tips as an incentive, what’s to stop me from blurting out how ugly a child is? If I am not getting tips, my interest in table turnover takes a nosedive because why would I want to take care of twenty tables in one night if I could make the same amount of money by only taking care of one?
Only time will tell what will happen to those of in the land of tipped employees. For the time being, I will look forward to December 31st when the new wage goes into effect. I will relish that paycheck and take that money with gratitude. It’s still many months away before it happens, but until then, I will dream of paychecks with extra zeros and imagine what I will do with all that extra money.