Opponents of the local minimum wage increase, often local restaurant owners and managers, act as if we tipped workers are all rolling in cash and go out and party our lives away.
It is true that if you get a job in a nice place, you can make decent money, but there are also shifts with no tables, and no tips.
I have been a server in Lexington for almost 10 years. I have worked for corporate giants and local nobodies. I have never once felt financially stable on wages I make serving tables, even when I am in a good spot.
I am a single father, and my bills for shelter, vehicle, food, medicine and other necessities for my child and myself always exceed my earnings. At times, I rely on certain government programs to assist and, at times, I become ineligible, because on paper I make about 20 percent more than I actually take home because of the systems restaurants use to keep labor costs down.
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Your average restaurant has to pay kitchen staff, including cooks, dishwashers or prep employees, and hosts, at least minimum wage. Servers make $2.13 an hour and rely on tips to survive. What most people outside the industry are unaware of is that the server's tips compensate other employees, so the business can avoid paying more workers minimum wage. At the end of an average serving shift, there are at least two groups of employees a server must pay money to: the bartenders and the busing staff, and sometimes even the host staff.
This is common practice in the restaurant industry. Servers must claim these and all tips by entering them into a computer system that credits them on their paycheck.
This creates the appearance that most servers make more than they do. We end up not only paying other employees, but also paying their taxes. I lose qualification in various assistance programs because of this inflated sense of income. The taxes from these tips are taken out of the $2.13 an hour, which in most cases is not enough to cover the tips. Most of us get $0.00 paychecks and even owe taxes at the end of the year.
Servers also are used as cheap labor. A number of managers I have worked for send hosts, dishwashers and even prep cooks home early and make a server do those duties to save on labor costs, which is almost always directly tied into the managers' overall pay and bonuses. Not only does this put more work on the lower-paid server, it hurts the server's tips, because they are pulled away from their guests, who are the people paying for their labor.
I never know what one week or one day will hold. If I make $20 an hour one day and pull in enough to pay a bill I need to take care of, I worry that the next day I will make $5 an hour or worse.
As a single father, it has become almost impossible to plan ahead for expenses. I am fortunate to have found a restaurant that respects its employees and where I am able to make a decent living, but that is not usually the case.
Restaurant work often involves huge job insecurities. I have been fired for political beliefs and for doing something two different managers instructed me to do.
I have worked for local business owners who are so racist, sexist or a combination of both that I could not in good conscience continue to work under them.
I have seen employees worked to the bone, management included, for meager wages, while the owner's life is an alcohol- and-drug fueled party.
We are not asking for a lot. We are asking to be compensated for our work and time, appropriately.
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