Why do tipped restaurant employees support the current tip credit system?

One Fair Wage, a nonprofit affiliate of the radical Restaurant Opportunities Center, has been on a mission to end the tip credit in states across the country. Over the last several weeks, One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman has been trying to export this movement to New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and the District of Columbia.

Earlier this year, One Fair Wage even released a how-to guide of sorts to give restaurants a guide to eliminate tipping. But if you actually ask the servers and bartenders who earn tips, they don’t support the anti-tipping movement. In fact, tipped restaurant employees have already successfully championed keeping the tip credit in Maine, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia.

When employers switch to a no-tip model, they adjust their costs accordingly. As a result of ending the tip credit and therefore spiking labor costs, restaurants are often forced to reduce the number of  jobs and hours for tipped employees, and may even shut down. Many also switch from a base wage plus tips to a no-tip model, charging customers a service fee or increasing menu prices to cover the spike in labor costs.

1. Employees say they lose income when restaurants end the traditional base wage plus tips system and switch to no-tipping alternatives.

“Without the tip credit, the income opportunities will not be there for me and I could not – and would not – do this job…I didn’t ask for this, my [fellow] workers didn’t ask for this.” New York server, 2018

“Many of us see ourselves as professional, commission-based salespeople. A minimum wage without a tip credit would effectively turn career servers — the most experienced of whom can earn up to $24 an hour or more — into entry-level employees.”Maine server, 2019

“I fear for my fellow employees because if the tipping wage is raised to meet the actual minimum wage I feel that the likelihood of getting tipped regularly will decrease dramatically.” New York restaurant employee, 2018

“My main income is through my tips…It hurts us a lot more than it would ever help us. Right now leave it how it is, we don’t want it, we don’t need it.” – New York restaurant employee, 2018

“[A] front-of-house employee says her annual pay dropped from $60,000 per year before [the restaurant switched to ‘hospitality included’] to $50,000 after tips were eliminated.” GrubStreet reporting on NY-based Union Square Cafe implementing a no-tipping policy, 2017

“[Union Square Cafe] was my New York home and the way I made my living, and its no longer a sustainable place to do that.” New York server on NY-based Union Square Cafe implementing a no-tipping policy, 2017

“[Without tips] I couldn’t make the ends meet. It would be going into debt working for them again.” California server on Zuni Cafe’s announcement of a new no-tipping policy, 2021

“Anybody that thinks that they’re helping us by taking away the opportunity to make tips is gonna hurt a lot of people. Because we depend on our tips. I don’t want $15 an hour, I can make more than that.”Massachusetts server

2. Employees say they lose job opportunities because of tip credit elimination.

“If the tip credit is removed, many restaurants will eliminate tipping and move to an hourly wage system. Tipped employees would likely earn far less than they currently do and restaurants would be forced to reduce employee hours or operate with fewer employees.” – New Hampshire restaurant employee coalition, 2021

“A massive majority of tipped servers and bartenders are extremely alarmed about their jobs and their incomes being subjected to a public vote and are strongly opposed to Initiative 77.” – Washington, DC bartender on ballot measure seeking to eliminate the city’s tip credit system, 2018

“This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all due to the policy change. That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment.” – Seattle server on Washington’s no tip credit policy, 2019

3. Employees say the current base wage plus tips system works for them, and doesn’t need to be fixed.

“The system is working the way it is, please leave it alone. We don’t need to be saved.” – New York server, 2018

“I make plenty of money. I am not a victim…We don’t have anything wrong. We’re not broken. We don’t need to be fixed.” – New York Server, 2018

“[The tip credit system] has given me the…earning potential to support my daughter as a single mom in a very expensive and gentrifying city. I would absolutely without hesitation prefer to work for the lower base minimum wage plus tips.” – Washington, D.C. server