You won’t hear many servers say they feel lucky right now, but I do. I’m lucky that the restaurant where I’ve worked for the past five years, Truffle Pig, is at the base of the Steamboat ski resort. If not for our location in a popular tourist spot, I don’t know if I’d still have a job.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the restaurant industry upside down. In Colorado, we restaurant employees account for 10 percent of the state’s workforce. My restaurant is an independently owned small business that operates on a very tight margin — and from my understanding, the vast majority of Colorado’s restaurants are similar. According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, an average of 95¢ of every $1 spent in a restaurant goes toward keeping the place running.
In Steamboat Springs, we’ve seen a number of periods with severe capacity restrictions: We’ve seen two indoor dining shutdowns, and are currently limited to 25 percent. So it’s not hard to see why one in six U.S. restaurants have closed and two million workers have been laid off since last March. In the restaurants that have been able to stay open, there’s been an extreme decrease in hours, and with that income for the employees.
And now we may be dealt another blow. As part of the Raise the Wage Act, Congress wants to eliminate the tip credit, which would effectively cut our pay.
I am not opposed to raising the minimum wage for those who don’t earn tips, but elimination of the tip credit would drastically reduce my earning potential. Even with the pandemic still raging, I make much more than the proposed minimum wage, $15 an hour, at my current wage plus tips. But I’ve heard of some restaurants that have begun to eliminate tipping in other states that don’t have the tip credit, and servers’ pay goes down.
I’ve worked in other professions before and could again, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. I love being a server: The job gives me flexibility, it’s social, and I’m directly financially rewarded for my excellent customer service. I like being in control of my earning, and the Raise the Wage Act would take away that freedom and flexibility. (And by the way, on the rare occasion that a tipped employee’s hourly wages plus tips is less than the traditional minimum wage, the employer is legally required to make up the difference.)
I also worry that any additional cost to my owner will result in more of us losing our jobs. Restaurants are getting killed right now — even in tourist towns like mine. Our industry, and our servers, can’t afford this. That’s why tipped workers who don’t want to see their tips disappear are fighting the elimination of the tip credit.
Truffle Pig is a family, and management is doing its best to make sure everyone gets enough shifts to get by. One more hurdle will mean more tough choices for them and for servers like me.
It’s imperative that Congress leave the tip credit in place. I hope Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper will listen to constituents like me who can’t afford to have their pay cut or, worse, their job eliminated. Please, leave the tip credit alone!
Olivia Goldsworthy is a server at Truffle Pig in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
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