By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Nassrine Moasser, 22, took a full-time job waiting tables at Columbia’s Stanford Grill after her graduation from Towson University a year ago.
She said she’s familiar with the recent move by lawmakers to boost Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10, but was glad that the legislature pegged the base pay for tipped workers at $3.63.
If her restaurant was forced to supply her a higher hourly rate, Moasser said, the menu prices would likely spike because the ownership would need to pay for increased labor costs.
That means customers keeping a tighter eye on their purse strings, and scanter tips for her, Moasser said.
“People already sometimes don’t tip,” she said. “If we were paid an hour wage, customers just wouldn’t be able to go out to eat.”
The Maryland General Assembly approved the hike to minimum wage, a chief priority for Gov. Martin O’Malley this legislative session — the minimum wage reaching the $10.10 marker by July 2018.
Tipped workers wage also debated
Some of the legislation’s advocates, particularly those representing tipped workers, however, said they were displeased that tipped workers were seemingly alienated from the financial boon. Advocates for tipped workers are still chalking up the increase as a win, but cited a freeze on their salary as a “de facto pay cut” and said many tipped workers are in their 30s, working at chain restaurants on limited tips and trying to support themselves.
Melvin Thompson, a spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said lawmakers made the concession because they realized the undue fiscal burden that an increase for tipped workers would place upon restaurant owners.
An initial proposal from Raise Maryland, a coalition leading the charge for minimum wage, stipulated tipped workers be paid at least 70% of the minimum wage.
Thompson said he explained to lawmakers that per the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, owners must pay their tipped workers more if their combined hourly wage and tips does not reach the state’s current minimum, $7.25. On a slow lunch hour, for instance, the restaurant must make up the deficit to bring an employee’s salary from $3.63 to at least $7.25.
“We were very happy that legislators understood our business and the tipped wage issue,” Thompson said.
Some tipped workers seem unaware of those regulations. Moasser said that in her six years waitressing at various restaurants she’s never encountered any that supplemented the wait staff’s pay during a slow period. Tips are very important to her, she said, as taxes have garnished her $3.63 base pay almost completely. She lives nearly off those tips entirely, but comfortably, because the grill serves casual but slightly more elegant fare and dinner entreés cost as much as $32.
Menu prices could have been affected
Bob Garner is co-founder of Glory Days Grill, a neighborhood-style sports bar chain that has spread to more than 20 locations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Florida.
Tipped waiters and waitresses earn between $13 and $15 an hour, factoring in tips, said Garner, who budgeted $20,000 to $25,000 in additional labor costs by the time the minimum wage reaches $10.10. Glory Days also allocates 3% of all server tips to a tip pool for bussers and hosts and hostesses, Garner said.
Garner said he went to Annapolis to educate lawmakers about the tipped worker system and explained that if labor costs increase, menu prices will also go up. It is not a new concept for him — when he gives raises to servers and kitchen staff now, he raises menu prices to pay for it.
Garner said he was relieved that the tipped workers’ pay was not tied to 70% of the hike in minimum wage — resources can be allocated to the staff that deserve raises.
“I think lawmakers realized what a monumental mistake that was,” Garner said. “We didn’t even have a gameplan, or how we would respond.”
Minimum wage will increase to $8 January 1, 2015; $8.25 July 1, 2015; $8.75 July 2016; $9.25 July 2017 and $10.10 July 2018, two years behind the initial proposal.