Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Three Promises If You Pass 77

There is a lot of uncertainty in DC regarding Initiative 77 on the ballot this week and what it will actually accomplish or devastate. If you want to know my credentials, I have worked in the restaurant industry for the better part of the past 25 years in California, Maryland, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. And I have a degree in economics. I currently am a tipped employee in a restaurant in our nation's capital, and I have three promises for you if you enact this proposal that seeks to give me an hourly wage raise that I do not want:

Dining will get more expensive. I know the intention here is to get businesses to pay their staff better, especially at the lower level small places where people - often immigrants - are finding it very difficult to make ends meet on just over $3 an hour plus tips. DC is a liberal city, obvious liberal answer is to create an artificial price floor for labor above that which the market has determined. This will increase the costs of running a full-service restaurant significantly, and menu items across the board will see a jump as all operators struggle to provide a great product and still turn a profit. This will be a city-wide phenomenon, as all restaurants will feel the pressure, and we can infer that DC voters are stating that they don't mind paying more to help those less fortunate. You will get your chance to pay more at the end of your meal. In any scenario, the customers will be paying the wages of the staff - tipping or not.

Being a food server will change. Proponents of Initiative 77 claim to have the welfare of the employee in mind with their vote. Some restaurants may choose to abolish tipping (chefs here in DC have already openly pondered this, although with paying their cooks more as and end goal), which will result in many of the best and most experienced in our field looking for work in Maryland or Virginia, or another state where they can try to earn what they believe is their true market value. Some restaurants will get by with a minimum wage service staff. Due to the higher cost of labor, shifts will be limited to 40 hours or less with no opportunity to work overtime shifts. Expect restaurants to adjust their model to utilize fewer bodies - a bartender, a manager, and some food runners can serve a small restaurant, and they can get rid of the seasoned waitstaff (I've seen this in California.) Servers, bussers, and food runners, the tip credit allows you to be an affordable luxury to your restaurant; calculations will be made to determine which luxuries need to be restricted or eliminated.

Restaurants will close. Obviously, people will still dine out, but where? How will restaurants restructure, and how will patrons adjust their choices? There are so many young establishments in DC that are small businesses; will they be able to weather the storm? Will investors seek other markets? Will talented chefs take their cuisine to other cities? There are many variables, but there are already an overabundance of restaurants in Washington; some sort of purge might not be the worst thing in the long run, but what if the places that are willing to cut corners are the ones best positioned to make it through? People will cite other states whose restaurants manage to pay these higher wages and survive, but these situations should not be equated for a few reasons - one being they are states, not cities bordered by two states within walking distance.   

You are free to disagree with any of these claims and more, but the majority of us in the service industry are not asking for this. The best among us show up and work long hours to try as best we can to take care of our guests and earn a proper reward for our hospitality. This proposal threatens our ability to prosper, and I hope you will at least defer to those of us who have to live with your decision.

NO on 77.