Server Minimum Wage / by kevin murray

Most of us visit a restaurant at least occasionally in which as part of the final payment of the meal, a tip is typically left for the server.  The tip is left to the discrimination of the patron in most parts of the United States and as a consumer I do prefer having that discretion as to how much tip amount to leave for a given meal, depending on service and performance.  However, there is the other side of the tip equation and that is the server's side.  Many of our laws have exceptions, and in the case of waitresses the minimum wage has an exception in which instead of making at least the federal mandated minimum of $7.25/hour, their minimum wage is set at $2.13/hour as a "tipped minimum wage" and it has been set at $2.13/hour since 1991.  While the law states that your server must through tips and their hourly wage make at least the minimum wage per hour, in practicality any server making the "tipped minimum wage" is going to get $2.13/hour and the balance of their pay, no matter how little or how much, will come from tips, and that is pretty much the end of the story.


Obviously, the lower minimum wage for employers is a great benefit as their labor costs go down, and they can afford to overstaff their restaurant because of it.  Also, since their servers are making such a paltry rate per hour, it is easy to make as a condition of employment, hours in which the server must be at the restaurant in order to help set up tables for the opening of business as well as closing tables at the close of business.  It seems to me that it is hypocrisy of the highest order when people that are making sub-minimum wages are put into a position in which they are working at the restaurant in a particular duty in which there is no possibility of making a tip (e.g. setting up tables before the restaurant is even open to the public).  That isn't fair and the personnel that are making less than minimum wage while doing these duties should be compensated at full minimum wage or better.  For instance, if on a normal day of an 8-hour shift, there are two hours in which the restaurant was either closed to patrons, or no longer were serving meals to patrons and you are working in various job duties for the restaurant during that time, it should be mandated that you receive the full minimum wage or better.  Making just this small change would be fairer for the servers in general, and it would also necessitate management to be more efficient in utilizing its labor resources because they would be more cognizant of the true costs involved.


Of course, there is another more straightforward argument which is whether servers should be paid less than minimum wage to begin with.  There are seven states in which that question has been answered: NO, and one of those states is the largest in the Union, which is California.  The last I checked, California has many, many restaurants and doesn't seem to suffer from not having too many, which implies that restaurants can do just fine by paying their servers a full minimum wage. 


I do not believe that it is step too far to update our minimum wage laws to reflect that tipped employees should make the full minimum wage.  While you could make the argument that this change should be done immediately, I would not be opposed to it being stepped in over a period of three or possibly four years to give those states and restaurants enough time to adjust to the new labor law.