The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Removing the tipped wage will hurt restaurant workers

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Warren Thompson is president and chairman of Thompson Hospitality.

In November, D.C. voters will decide on Initiative 82, another attempt to eliminate the tipped wage that supports tipped restaurant industry employees.

I serve as president and chairman of Thompson Hospitality, the largest minority-owned food and facilities management company in the United States. Our servers and bartenders are guaranteed to earn at least minimum wage, and the tipping system enables them to earn double, if not triple, the minimum wage. If voters approve Initiative 82 to eliminate the tipped wage, then the jobs and earning potential of restaurant workers in D.C. will be in serious jeopardy.

Initiative 82 would require that restaurants increase the minimum wage for tipped employees, now $5.35 to the same minimum wage of employees for non-tipped employees by 2027.

D.C. restaurant employees have been vocal in their support for the tipped wage. They have advocated at D.C. Council meetings, published essays in newspapers and other media and organized around preserving the tipped model. In fact, the D.C. Council reversed a previous initiative to raise the tipped wage in response to the compelling testimony and outcry from hundreds of restaurant employees.

As restaurants recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the elimination of the tipped wage would force restaurants to reduce staff, increase menu prices and implement policies that would ultimately affect restaurant employees’ earning potential. In a study released in August by the Employment Policies Institute, new research found that a $1 increase in the minimum tipped wage could cause as much as a 5.6 percent decrease in total quarterly earnings for full-service tipped restaurant employees, as well as a 6.1 percent decrease in employment across the entire full-service restaurant industry. I find these projections to be very troubling for restaurant employees — even more so for tipped workers in D.C., where Initiative 82, if approved, would fully eliminate the tipped wage.

I am proud to provide my employees with tipped jobs and access to upward mobility through the restaurant industry. The industry is unique because though workers require little experience, the earnings potential through tips is high. The tipping model in the United States provides the opportunity for many restaurant workers to earn far beyond minimum wage while they never make less than the minimum wage.

I am committed to preserving the tipped wage model for the restaurant industry in the interest of protecting the high-paying opportunities it provides for workers who have historically been excluded from avenues for pursuing upward mobility.

Eliminating the tipped wage through Initiative 82 could not only place tipped restaurant jobs in jeopardy, but it also could undermine the ability of tipped employees to earn high wages and achieve success. I urge D.C. voters to protect tipped employees by opposing Initiative 82.