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Restaurant & Bar Workers to be Hurt if “Tipped Wage” System Eliminated

Just so that we are, to use the common expression, all on the same page, we need first to set the record straight:

Servers employed in restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments who derive their income largely through tips and not by actual employer-paid wages of at least the minimum wage are not in any way being cheated out of earning a decent living as proponents of Initiative 77 would have everyone believe. Here’s why:

If your waitstaff person’s tips fail to add up to the current $12.50 hourly minimum wage it is then the legally-required responsibility of the establishment’s owner to make up the difference between that and the tips received. This means that the employee receives at least the equivalent of the minimum wage –- they are not, contrary to what the Initiative’s boosters are peddling, getting screwed as they will have voters believe.

(An easy to understand and factually straight-forward explanation of how the current tip-wage system works can be found on the NO2DC77 website. And, while this website clearly reflects the position of restaurant, bar, and club workers opposition to the initiative, we can, without hesitation, confirm the accuracy of the facts as they are set out when scrolling down the homepage.)

The proponents for scrapping the current system would have us believe that by retaining this long-established “tipped wage” (or “Tip Credit”) system, workers are getting a raw deal. On the contrary, according to Cork Wine Bar & Market’s owner Khalid Pitts with whom we recently spoke, the across-the-board average hourly take-home pay is more in the range of $30 –- far more than the city’s minimum wage.

As Dito Sevilla, bartender at the popular Floriana’s on 17th Street and part of the tightly knit community of hospitality professionals told the Washington Blade, “’I think it’s a solution in search of a problem. . . . I don’t know a single person in Washington in a restaurant [or bar] that isn’t making at least double the minimum wage.”

Dito is simply echoing the sentiment of the vast majority of his brother and sister professionals who work hard at serving their customers in restaurants and bars throughout Dupont, Adams Morgan, the 14th and U Street area, and all across the city. So, if those workers who would be most impacted actually want to retain the tip credit wage system because they know they can earn more money, where is the imperative to change?

For example, according to Maria Barry, “On a good night, I make $75 an hour, and everyone I know in the industry makes well more than minimum wage.” Kristina Zaumseil, a bartender at Franklin Hall and Bedrock Billiards, wants the proponents to know, “We love our jobs . . .  [and] please stop insulting DC’s restaurant community. We’re doing just fine, thank you.”

Interestingly, the New York-based organization pushing this canard has admitted that its purpose is to hurt national chains like Applebees, TGIFriday’s, IHOP, and others of that kind. In DC, then, Initiative 77 will only be of potential help to workers in a mere four percent of the nearly 2,000 food and beverage-serving establishments –- the other 96% are independently owned and operated, mostly of the “mom and pop” kind of small businerss. So, if what this out-of-state organization says is its intent, why have they intruded here?

Why should we who don’t work in those jobs decide that we know better what’s good for them and their families? To do so would be the height of Trump-like arrogance –- and based on a complete lack of understanding the facts.

Furthermore, why should this arrangement be done away with through this Initiative 77 which is based on an idea being pushed by a group based in New York? We here in DC rightly take umbrage when members of Congress attempt to impose their “solutions” on us (which they wouldn’t dare try out back home!); likewise, we feel compelled to likewise reject those “out-of-staters” from deciding for us what is “good” for us through the guise of a process that looks on its face to be legit but, like the Russian bots & planted “fake” news, is a sham.

Perusing the actual text of Initiative 77, especially at the start, one might believe that its purpose is to establish a new, higher minimum wage scheme. If that was all that it is, then indeed, it is a good thing. However, that scheme was put into place by the city council two years ago. What is actually going on here is that the language of the Initiative is doing nothing more than amending the already mandated higher minimum wage to allow for the elimination of the tip wage credit system.

Part of the problem with this Initiative is how it is presented to the voters: confusing for sure, mostly because its language is in the form of an in-the-weeds technical legislative insider’s document. And it is for good reason that At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman during a March 9th interview on the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Show’s “Politics Hour,” said, “I’ve been supportive of increasing the [tip base wage] . . . but I’m unclear exactly how this ballot initiative works. . . . If I don’t understand it, I know voters don’t understand it.”

This will be on the June 19th primary election ballot. While all registered voters will be eligible to vote on the Initiative notwithstanding that a primary election is “closed,” meaning that normally only registered voters with a political party can participate, on June 19th, everyone who is a registered voter -– meaning even independents –- can vote. We urge, vote NO.