Is It True That Waiters Don't Make Minimum Wage?

Posted on 07 Sep 2015 15:49

Many people complain about the "broken" tip culture in American restaurants. They argue that waiters don't make minimum wage, and only make anywhere from say, $2.13 (the federal minimum for tipped employees, called the tip wage) to $3.50 (more or less). They depend almost solely on tips to make a living.

Therefore, although it would be disastrous for waiters in the short term, if EVERYONE stopped tipping, then most waiters would leave the industry (while perhaps suffering poverty) and the country would have to "fix" the tip problem and pay waiters minimum wage, at least, so we could all enjoy dining out again.

Do Waiters Make Minimum Wage?

The problem? It's not true. As already mentioned in Six Ways Waiters Can Maximize Their Tips, waiters DO get paid minimum wage IF their tips do not equal or exceed minimum wage.

The frequent assertion that waiters "do not make minimum wage" is a myth. Federal regulations see to this.

If a restaurant owner's waitstaff's tips, when added to their wage, does not equal or exceed minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. By denying tips, you are denying the opportunity for a waiter's income to exceed minimum wage.

Is it true that waiters don't make minimum wage?
Is it true that waiters don't make minimum wage?

What these well-meaning tip-theorists seem to ignore, is how difficult it is for many workers to survive on minimum wage.

What is the Federal Law on Tipped Employee Wages?

Here is the low-down According to the United States Department of Labor:

An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage (the employee retains all tips and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Some states have minimum wage laws specific to tipped employees. When an employee is subject to both the federal and state wage laws, the employee is entitled to the provisions which provides the greater benefits.

The federal minimum wage is 7.25 an hour. Everyone, including tipped workers, are guaranteed at least this minimum wage.

In many restaurants it may be impossible for a waiter to make more than minimum wage, but when it is possible, don't deny them the opportunity out of a half-baked idea about how our tipping system doesn't make sense! Tip your waiter!

By the same token, be aware that the argument from waiters "we don't make minimum wage" is untrue. However, many restaurants stiff waiters on minimum wage, and are even unaware of federal regulations.

If you are a waiter and you are not making enough tips, according to the law above, and your employer is not paying the difference, then your employer is breaking the law, period. Call your labor board.

Individual states can pass their own laws concerning minimum wages. The tip wage in most states is $2.13, same as the federal tip wage. It would be a waste of time for a state to pass a lower tip wage, and the higher federal wage would take precedence. However, some states have passed higher tip wages, and waiters in these states must be paid the higher wages.

Seven states have made their minimum wage and tip wage the same. These are:

  • Alaska - $8.75
  • California - $10.00
  • Minnesota - $9.00
  • Montana - $8.05
  • Nevada - $8.25
  • Oregon - $9.25
  • Washington - $9.47

Many other states have a tip wage that is higher than the federal standard:

  • Arizona - $5.05
  • Arkansas - $2.63
  • Colorado - $4.98
  • Connecticut - $5.69
  • Delaware - $2.23
  • Florida - $5.03
  • Hawaii - $7.00
  • Idaho - $3.35
  • Illinois - $5.45
  • Iowa - $4.35
  • Maine - $3.75
  • Massachusetts - $3.00
  • Maryland - $3.63
  • Michigan - $2.65
  • Missouri - $3.675
  • New Hampshire - $3.26
  • New York - $8.75
  • North Dakota - $4.86
  • Ohio - $4.05
  • Pennsylvania - $2.83
  • Rhode Island - $3.39
  • Vermont - $4.17
  • Wisconsin - $2.33

So, as you can see, in more states than not the tip wage is actually slightly higher or substantially higher than the federal tip wage standard. Therefore, waiters must make at least the federal minimum wage or higher in all states in the U.S. and in many states tip wages are higher to start.

You may have noticed that I used the term waiter throughout this article. I did not use waitress or server. You can read about my reasons for using the term waiter to describe all wait-persons.

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