Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The One Good Thing Trump Did for PDX Food

On the eve of Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address, there is one thing Portland eaters can actually be thankful for: the reversal of the law that made it illegal to pool tips at restaurants. In 2011, then-president Barack Obama made it illegal for restaurants to share tips among staff — waiters, cooks, hosts, dishwashers, etc. Many restaurateurs I've spoke to say this furthers the wage disparity between front-of-house and back-of-house restaurant workers: Waiters usually pocket all that dough from 20% tips, in addition to earning minimum wage, while line cooks often make around minimum wage.

The Trump Administration's Department of Labor has set a repeal in motion that will likely take effect February 5, 2018. This would allow restaurant owners to divide the total tips among staff as they please. The government is accepting comments from the public until that date.

Pooling tips and dividing them more evenly among restaurant workers does appear to fix, or lessen, many problems Portland restaurants are currently facing. In particular, Portland restaurants need to find a way to pay their staff more, as a result of rising minimum wage mandates in Oregon. Secondly, the shortage of cooks once mostly felt by New York City and San Francisco is now a reality in Portland.

Photo: Mattie John Bamman

Tip pooling could allow restaurant owners to pay their cooks more. This would reduce turnover in the kitchen, which majorly affects the quality of the food we're all served. Additionally, the hospitality industry employs a huge percentage of Portlanders, so reversing the law would improve the quality of life for thousands.

But there is one potential problem — one of the very reasons Obama made tip-pooling illegal in 2011: Some restaurant owners could choose to pocket all of the tips, and that would be totally legal.

For me, the real problem — the one at the root of all of this — is that waiters are paid minimum wage in addition to earning tips in Oregon. In other states, waiters make a tiny portion of minimum wage — at times, as low as $2.33/hour — with the tips making up the rest of their pay (note that if a waiter's tips do not equal minimum wage, which is uncommon, the employer must pay the difference.)

Because of Oregon's laws, restaurateurs have to dedicate more of their total operating fees to pay waiters, some of whom are already making bank with tips. It only seems fair cooks receive higher pay.

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