Working for wages

Once upon a time, I was not a full time writer. I was a writer, and the book it took me a year to write earned me about $4500.00 That’s not a livable income, even with an employed spouse. So I worked many another job as well.

I worked as a waitress in Seattle at a restaurant called Sambo’s Pancake House. Yes. Later, they changed the name to Seasons after a bankruptcy, I believe, but it still foundered and went out of business. I worked there in the early 80’s, a tough time in the Seattle area.

At that time, it was perfectly legal for a restaurant to pay their wait staff less than minimum wage. The assumption was that the tips we earned made up the difference, and so we were actually getting the minimum wage. The restaurant demanded that we report enough tips to show that we were getting minimum wage, and they looked aside from the fact that some of us made more than that.

I worked hard for those tips. At night, I emptied out the coffee cup I kept under the counter and took all my change home. Dollars were pretty rare and very welcome. My kids helped me roll the coins into coin holders, and we took them to Albertsons and bought our groceries with my tips. Shortly before I left Seasons, the restaurant inaugurated a new rule. Wait staff were expected to share tips with the new hostess they had hired and with the dish washer who sometimes doubled as a bus boy. It didn’t strike me as fair at the time. They were not putting up with the rude remarks nor doing all the little extra service perks that earned a good tip. Nonetheless, I shared.

Recently Washington State voted to increase the minimum wage, in increments, to $15 an hour from $9.67 an hour. Currently it has risen to $10 or $11, depending on how many employees the business has. That’s a leap upward and restaurants said they might be hard pressed to keep up with that and still keep menu prices low.

So, some restaurants have come up with a solution. They add and automatic 20% service charge to the bill. And advertise that there is no need to tip anymore.

Who gets that 20%? The restaurants. And they redistribute it so that all employees now make the new state minimum wage. Unsurprisingly, some wait staff are now taking home less money than they used to. And with it, I imagine (If I were working there, frankly) goes the incentive to do all those extra little services to earn a good tip.

I strongly favor a living wage. But it should be paid by the employers rather than by the other employees. I think this is an extremely poor way to raise the minimum wage and redistribute income so that the dishwashers are paid on a par. It feels dishonest to me. And I do wonder how the patrons will react when the option of tipping for excellent service becomes a requirement to be served at all.

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