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NYC restaurant workers, diners hungry for new rule that would change how customers tip

NYC servers and diners say they support proposal to force restaurants to pay servers minimum wage
NYC servers and diners say they support proposal to force restaurants to pay servers minimum wage

Tipped-off New York City diners are being asked to pay more and more gratuity — and now they say it’s time the owners of local eateries pay their share.

Restaurant workers and people out to eat on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row this week largely backed a plan to can New York’s existing “tip credit” system, which allows eateries pay wait staff less than minimum wage.

That stood in stark contrast to the owners themselves, who hate the idea and overwhelmingly oppose the possible change, according to a recent survey.

“It’s just the owners trying to be cheap,” bartender Tiffany Rosario, told The Post and brushed aside worries that a change could lead to layoffs.

“They just don’t want to have to pay us out of their own pockets,” Rosario said. “They won’t fire people, and if they do, they’ll just have to pay the staff they have to work more time. The only thing that will change is it will be a lot more fair for us.”

According to a new survey from the NYC Hospitality alliance, 95% of the city’s restaurateurs oppose eliminating the tip credit system. Christopher Sadowski
According to a new survey from the NYC Hospitality alliance, 95% of the city’s restaurateurs oppose eliminating the tip credit system. Christopher Sadowski

Under the current law,Big Apple restaurant employers can pay wait staff a base wage of $10.65 an hour if that wage — combined with their tips — equals or surpasses the minimum wage of $16.

The $5-and-change differential is known as the “tip credit” — and bosses must pay the difference if it all adds up to less than the state-set minimum. But a proposed law pushed by Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-Queens) and Sen. Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan) would abolish the credit, shifting how much workers rely on tips — and also reshaping what percentage constitutes a good tip, according to New Yorkers and tourists.

A whopping 97% of the city’s restaurants said they were either extremely or somewhat concerned about eliminating the tip credit in favor of a flat $16-per-hour wage, according to a recent survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Servers often make more than the minimum wage with tips, of course, with the Hospitality Alliance’s report saying they often hit $20 to $40 an hour with tips.

Servers and wait staff disagreed, however. Paying them a flat wage might give them some stability, they said. Stefano Giovannini
Servers and wait staff disagreed, however. Paying them a flat wage might give them some stability, they said. Stefano Giovannini

But that’s a big maybe. And servers told The Post that some stability might be nice.

“In January, February, the tips aren’t enough,” said one bartender hustling through a day shift at Mercury Bar West on Ninth Ave.

A change might also soften the blow to consumers who said they are getting hit by an avalanche of tip requests every time they step foot in an establishment that uses a payment screen.

New York City restaurants are allowed to pay employees $10.65 per hour if their wage combined with tips equals or exceeds $16 per hour. Christopher Sadowski
New York City restaurants are allowed to pay employees $10.65 per hour if their wage combined with tips equals or exceeds $16 per hour. Christopher Sadowski

“They should totally be paid the full minimum wage, for sure,” a health care worker named JT told The Post on Monday.

The rise of random tipping prompts at delis, grocery stores and coffee shops has actually made him more stingy — even at bars and restaurants, he said.

“People are bombarded by tip requests, and people are frustrated,” he told The Post. “My behavior [at real restaurants] has changed because of it, and I’m sure other people’s have too.

“They work so hard — they shouldn’t rely on tips to make a wage,” he continued. “A cash tip shouldn’t determine someone’s whole livelihood.”

A flat wage would also go a long way to eliminating the differential between what workers make on slower day shifts and what they make during busier night shifts, some workers said.

“Sometimes it’s not fair; like at night it’s busy, but in the morning it’s dead,” Rosario, the bartender, said. “So the night shifts have to split tips with the morning. Getting paid could help make it fair.”

Some thought restaurateurs opposition to paying tipped employees minimum wage was just them being “cheap.” Stefano Giovannini
Some thought restaurateurs opposition to paying tipped employees minimum wage was just them being “cheap.” Stefano Giovannini

Some nights are good. Some nights — like Mondays — aren’t. And a barkeep might walk out with just $50 for five hours of work, she said.

Restaurateurs claim there will be real costs to such a plan.

The report estimated that it would cost about $12,000 more to employ a full-time tipped employee per year should the credit be cut.

That would lead about three-quarters of the 879 owners surveyed to increase menu prices to offset the increased overhead, it said.

Two-thirds also said they’d slash their number of employees, and a little more than half claim they’d consider closing altogether.

Eric Rivera, a construction worker from New Jersey who works in the city, thought that was nonsense.

“I don’t buy that theory,” he told The Post as he walked back from lunch on Restaurant Row.

“They’re just saying that so they can keep buying low-wage workers,” he added. “Maybe paying the minimum wage will up the ante a little bit and make things more fair.”

Rachel Kopp, a visitor to the Big Apple from Switzerland, told The Post that the American tipping system took some getting used to.

But she generally doesn’t believe diners should have to throw down extra cash without exceptional service.

“Maybe if they are being paid a living wage, then I can decide to give something extra for service that is above-and-beyond,” she said. “Instead of just tipping because that’s how they survive.”