We’re a week into the new $15 minimum wage in Seattle, and restaurants have taken various approaches to reconcile the increased labor costs. Tom Douglas first announced he would add a 2 percent minimum wage surcharge to all checks, but swiftly took it back after negative public outcry, opting to raise menu prices instead. Ivar’s Salmon House catapulted its servers to $15 per hour straightaway (forgoing the three years they were allowed for the transition), but axed tipping; waitstaff will receive an eight percent commission on all sales in its place.
We’re waiting to see what other restaurants will decide, especially with tips, and The Stranger asked some longtime servers for their perspectives. Ultimately the article supposes "it’s possible that diners will begin tipping less knowing that servers are making a higher hourly wage." That said, if more restaurants follow Ivar’s and eliminate or decrease tips, servers will make less overall, and "restaurant service across the city will likely suffer as workers are expected to do the same amount of work for less pay."
Here is what a few servers had to say:
"’Fifteen dollars an hour with no tips at 40 hours a week? I would have to move," said one longtime server, who works in Fremont and spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘On top of that, I never really work 40 hours a week, as restaurants don’t want to pay overtime or health care.’ (It’s worth noting that Ivar’s is a large company that offers its employees, both full- and part-time, health benefits—an exception in the restaurant industry.)"
"’The bottom line is that I wait tables because of the tips,’ Shawn Berner, a server who has worked in the industry for almost 20 years, wrote in an e-mail. ‘Sure, I love great food, wine, and I like interacting with people, but serving allows me to pursue other interests BECAUSE I earn tips… I explain the menu, I make suggestions, I describe flavors and textures, and I make sure the kids are fed first. I EARN the tips I receive. I don’t believe that ‘just anyone’ could do it for as long as I have and continue to smile every day.’"
Veteran server Sarah Fox told The Stranger that she earns tips that generally add up to between 20 and 25 percent of bills, and put herself through graduate school waiting tables. "I personally have a really hard time with the inequity between front of house and back of house, though I’ve definitely taken advantage of it," she said. "But looking at the larger inequity, if we’re raising the minimum wage so that everyone makes a real living wage, and potentially over the long run I see a downward shift in tips, I’m okay with that."