Ahead of Tuesday's vote on Initiative 77, which would gradually eliminate the tipped minimum wage in the District , the Washington Post talked to servers, bartenders, restaurateurs and citizens about their views on the controversial measure.

[Tipping the pay scales: Initiative 77 could dramatically alter D.C. restaurant culture]

Woong Chang

In favor of Initiative 77 | Restaurant worker on H St. corridor and ROC United board member

“I first got to D.C. in 2009, and I was looking for a job and restaurant gigs. I was at this particular interview with this employer, and at some point he asked me, ‘How much you expect to make?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know anywhere between $10 to $12 an hour plus tips.’ He laughed in my face and he said I must be from California. I said ‘How did you know I’m from California? Do I say Dude too much?’ And he said only people from California pay that wage and when I asked how much do you pay here, he said $2.77 an hour plus tip. I laughed in his face because I thought he was joking. But turns out that’s the real wage, that’s how much we pay.”

Dawn Williams

Against Initiative 77 | Server at Daikaya

“I know I am capable and earn well above the minimum wage and have done that for years. Coming in and changing a system that works for a lot of people just seems like very disruptive and unnecessary to me. I would say I probably average anywhere between $30 to $35 an hour, and I only work 35 to 36 hours a week. I do about four days a week with three days off, so I have a long weekend with my son. I do it on purpose for the flexibility of being able to work less hours but well above livable wage.”

Listen to how tip elimination will affect Dawn’s income

Bill Perry

In favor of Initiative 77 | Owner of brew pub Public Option in Langdon, which asks customers to not tip

“From a practical standpoint, if you’re paying your employees $3.33 an hour and they’re making all the rest of it through tips, they’re essentially working directly for the customer and kind of cutting you out. So from a practical standpoint, it seemed to me, especially if you offer profit-sharing, that you get everybody motivated to not comp too many beers.”

Listen to Bill talk about the no tip system at his pub

Angela DelBrocco

Against Initiative 77 | Former bartender trying to open her own bar in Shaw/Bloomingdale

“It’s a special industry for women and people of color because we are the ones who for so long had the most difficulty obtaining capital... I see D.C. as a really promising place for me to open up a bar because I know I could do it with a lower cost model. If I have to support those labor costs up front, then I am not going to be able to pay back the capital I get in time, and I’m looking at a lot longer until we reach profitability. That puts a lot more strain on our business, and means we are much more likely to fail.”

Michael Lynn

Researcher on tipping at restaurants | Professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration

“You increase pay to servers, you’re increasing the cost to the restaurant. It can’t make that money out of nowhere. That means they’ll get it from customers... That will price many customers out of the market. Fewer people will be able to eat out.”

Jamie Leeds

Against Initiative 77 | Chef and founder of JL Restaurant Group, which includes Hank’s Oyster Bars and Hank’s Pasta Bar

“I have a pretty good base. I’ve got multiple different avenues of income with the six different restaurants. But you have these people with one or two restaurants. The individual restaurant owner, it’s going to wipe them out. The have no other resources. There’s a lot of that in D.C.”

Listen to Jamie talk about the group behind Initiative 77

Trip Brennan

In favor of Initiative 77 | Bartender at Hill Prince

“Bartending you tend to make more money, and I can understand why people can be scared of losing that kind of pay. Me making money on higher end is something I will be willing to risk in order to bring some sense of stability to tons of other people in the industry who don’t have the same kind of stability and guarantee of higher income I do. It’s the bussers, the barbacks, the people who work at restaurants where they get cash every night and they can get screwed out of their wages by bosses who do accounting tricks and don’t pay full minimum wage.”

Listen to Trip talk about backlash from workers in the business

Allison Hopelain

Restaurateur who has eliminated tipping | Co-owner of Camino in Oakland, Calif.

“The idea is that we’re trying to bring some professionalism to the job, so it’s not sort of like mercenary: ‘I’m going to try to upsell every single person.’ The server can, for one, be like, ‘Okay, this is the wine that I think would go really well with this meal, and it’s not the most expensive one. It is in my best interests to have these people have a good bottle of wine than it is for me to sell them the most expensive bottle of wine.’ So it kind of opens up these different relationships... Are we trying to guide you through the best experience? Are we just trying to make the most amount of money as possible.”

Listen to Allison talk about the transition into a no tipping policy

Kimberly Grant

Against Initiative 77 | Chief executive of Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup, which has dozen restaurants in Washington, including Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel

“It just can’t be a unilateral vote and then you go deal with it. I think the industry has to figure out, “Hey, if this is where we want to be, here’s what it’s going to cost and this is how we’re going to offset it and here are the strategies.’ We have to have a more thoughtful conversation.”

Listen to why certain arguments against tipping fall flat for Kimberly

Karina Stenquist

In favor of Initiative 77 | Former D.C. bartender now bartending in California without tipped minimum wage

“When I was working at Busboys and Poet, restaurant owners had a choice: Maybe it’s busy, maybe it’s not. If it costs me nothing to put them on the floor, why not put an extra person on the floor?...Here, my boss has a motivation to make sure none of these shifts are super dead because they have to cover my time, they have to cover at least $13.50 an hour. It’s also more business in tips for me.”

Taytum Sanderbeck

Against Initiative 77 | Bartender at Pinstripes Georgetown

“My freshman year of college working minimum wage while hostessing, I was barely scraping by. When I went to serve my sophomore year, even at the beginning when I was getting a bad section, I was still making so much more money I could cut back on hours and still make my rent and still pay my bills and everything.”

Ronesha Sockwell

In favor of Initiative 77 | Server at IHOP

“You deal with so much to be expected to act a certain type of way every single day, every single hour when you are on the clock. It’s very difficult, and then you don’t know what you are going to get at the end of that day when you give amazing customer service. It’s pretty hard when tips are the only income you are relying and you are making $3.33 an hour, and you aren’t seeing that on your paycheck.”

Amanda Cohen

Restaurateur who eliminated tipping | Chef and owner of Dirt Candy in Manhattan

Tipping is “a pretty awful system. It’s sexist. It’s racist. There’s a lot of misogyny tied up in it. It’s classist. All that aside, I started finding it really bizarre that I was actually allowing my customers to be my HR. I was like, ‘Why are you guys paying my employees and not me? Why am I not responsible for it?’”

Listen to Amanda’s thoughts on tipping and customer service

Bridget Gill

Against Initiative 77 | Bartender at Purple Patch in Mt. Pleasant, former server in London

“I have a $5 hourly minimum. The tips are good, and I make a comfortable living and have a savings account. We are not the highest volume bar in D.C., and we are not making huge bucks, but everyone is happy in this situation. There’s no tipping in London, and whatever tips we get we pool and split after three weeks. In London I made a living wage — about $14/15 — but I make more here.”

Jon Brandt

Undecided on Initiative 77 | Salesman for a beer and wine distributor who has friends and clients who may be impacted by the measure

“I would rather have people who have done a real deep dive into who is this going to effect? Who will be positively and negatively affected? What’s the end game here? I’d rather have the people that we elect to make those decisions make those decisions, rather than have a public referendum, which is essentially a popularity contest.”


Story by Fenit Nirappil and Tim Carman; design by Joanne Lee


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