An official fact-finding committee has recommended setting $4.25 as the minimum hourly pay for the 43,000 hotel and restaurant workers who form the largest single group of privately employed persons in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Wage-Hour Board reported yesterday.

For about 30,000 of the workers, such a minimum wage would trigger a pay increase above the $3.35 federal minimum wage that now applies to them.

Tips would offset wages up to an average tip level of $2.20 an hour, permitting employers to pay affected workers as little as $2.05 in wages.

If adopted by the city wage panel, which will have the final say after a required public hearing, the $4.25 minimum would be the nation's highest pay floor set under any group of workers. The highest is a statewide minimum of $3.85 in Alaska. Later this year, security guards in the District will exceed that with a locally set $3.90 minimum.

Under District law, local minimum wages -- usually above the federal minimums -- are set at different levels for various occupations. The federal minimum generally applies whenever it exceeds the District-set wage, not $2.80 for hotel and restaurant workers.

Leonard Hickman, executive vice president of the Hotel Association of Washington, criticized the proposal, saying all the branches of the District government seem to be doing all they can to discourage the survival and expansion of the city's hotels. He and a spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington contended the federal minimum wage should be adopted in the city as it is in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs.

Ron Richardson, executive secretary/treasurer of Local 25, Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, said that the $4.25 minimum wage recommendation is "absolutely fine" but that "the only thing it will do is help people working at small hotels who don't have a union contract."

According to Richardson, members of the Hotel Association of Washington are already under contract with Local 25 to pay a $4.65 minimum hourly wage. That contract expires Sept. 25, Richardson said, "at which point we anticipate the wage rate will go well above $5."