“Can a restaurant … be healthy [for customers] if it’s not healthy for the people that work there?”
Wage-based work typically does not require supplemental tips or gratuities for maximizing your chance at making a ‘living’ wage/salary. However, when your work is largely based upon the handouts or shows of appreciation from customers or clients, the wages are typically lower than the standard minimum standard. The restaurant industry remains to exist among others in which workers rely on tips or gratuities from patrons to supplement their base salaries.
Hence, tipped workers around the country remain uniquely disadvantaged; this is especially true for women and people of color. At a recent event by the Public Welfare Foundation (PWF), Restaurant Opportunities Center founder Saru Jayaraman discussed these and other topics in her new book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining. Forked features the stories of high-road employers who have implemented job quality standards for their restaurant workers, including a fair wage, paid sick days, predictable scheduling, paid vacation, and/or paid family leave. Unfortunately, such standards are far from the industry norm. Jayaraman refers to these employers as “on the high road to profitability”; by employing people in a fair, sustainable manner, these businesses reap the benefits of happier, healthier employees.
Forked argues for eliminating the two-tier wage system, which provides tipped workers a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour and forces them to rely primarily on tips for wages. Providing historical context, Jayaraman explained that the original tipped workers were former slaves, whose labor was deemed valueless by slave-owners and subsequent “employers”. These workers received nothing for their work; they depended on tips, which were provided inconsistently (and at the whim) of those extracting their labor.
This devaluation of certain types of labor—as well as certain workers—continues today, and women of color remain disproportionately disadvantaged. Jayaraman noted that tipped female restaurant workers are two times more likely to be sexually harassed than their counterparts in states with one standard wage. She attributed this phenomenon in part to pressure that tipped female restaurant workers felt to sexualize their appearance in order to receive increased tips. Because this system is accepted and encouraged within the tipped wage industry, Jayaraman said that tipped workers find it hard to speak out against harassment, especially when they are financially dependent on associated tips.