New push – but same opposition – to raising restaurant server wages

What has become a yearly battle over pay played between servers and restaurant owners at the state Capitol complex on Tuesday.

John Craven

Feb 27, 2024, 10:22 PM

Updated 50 days ago

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What has become a yearly battle over pay played between servers and restaurant owners at the state Capitol complex on Tuesday. Some workers are demanding the full minimum wage, but others think that’s a bad idea.
“TIPPED” WAGE
Waiting tables is an exhausting job, but servers and bartenders only make a fraction of the minimum wage.
Under current Connecticut law, wait staff and bartenders make a lower base salary – called a “tipped” wage – with gratuities from customers making up the difference. The tipped wage is $6.38 per hour for servers and $8.23 for those behind the bar.
Tuesday, some of them asked state lawmakers to pay them the full minimum wage of $15.69, with increases now tied to inflation.
“It’s time to earn the minimum, since our tips are for something that we earn for good service,” Ingrid Sepulveda, a waitress in Norwalk, told the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee through an interpreter.
PHASED OUT?
Instead of scrapping the subminimum wage immediately, lawmakers are now considering a bill to phase it out over three years. By July 1, servers would make two-thirds of the minimum wage. Next year, that jumps to 78% and in 2026, it would be 90%. By July 1, 2027, servers and bartenders would reach the full minimum wage.
“No other industry has been allowed to pay less than minimum wage to workers for so many years,” said Sally Greenberg, CEO of the National Consumers League. “The tip credit has been, well, a license to cheat workers.”
RESTAURANTS AND SOME SERVERS OPPOSE
Restaurant owners said they can't afford the increase, especially with razor thin margins after the COVID pandemic.
“If the bill currently under consideration becomes law, my average annual payroll would increase more than $140,000,” said Keith Beaulieu, owner of The Main Pub in Manchester. “The No. 1 thing [my employees] said to me was, ‘When people in the public begin to think that we are paid an even wage, they're not going to tip us the same way they do.’”
Servers themselves helped kill similar legislation several times before. Many worry that they’ll actually make less, because customers will cut back on tips.
“If they hear that law goes out, you'd be amazed how many people stop tipping," Antoneos Kalmanidis, the head chef at Silver Star Diner in Norwalk, told News 12 Connecticut in 2023. “I was a waiter for years. When I was working four days a week, I was making $900 a week, plus my pay."
But one expert said that hasn’t happened in the seven other states and Washington, D.C., where tipped wages have been eliminated.
“They do tip,” said Saru Jayaraman, president of the group One Fair Wage. “Most customers actually believe that workers already receive the full minimum wage, with tips on top, and they still tipped. So they do tip.”
Jayaraman also pointed to a survey showing that 94% of restaurant workers in neighboring New York state support ending the lower tipped wage and other data showing more restaurants have opened in areas without tipped wages.


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