NEW YORK — A new year brings new changes, including potential price increases for restaurant menu items. Dec. 31 will mark another increase in wages for tipped service employees. New York has been implementing yearly minimum wage increases across the state since 2016. For restaurants, this wage increase may affect their tips and business.
According to the NYS Department of Labor, the minimum wage for tipped food service workers will increase from $7.85 to $8.35 at the end of this year. However, some say that restaurants will have to raise their prices to keep up with this increase, and servers may see less tips than they are used to, to compensate for the change in prices.
“When the increase was first implemented, we tried to fight it. It’s a lot easier for larger chain restaurants to keep up and adjust to the increases, but for the little guys like us, we’re more affected by it,” says Charles Usas, owner of The Barrelhouse. He says that to keep up with the changes, they’ve had to raise their menu prices. However, an increase in menu prices has not meant a decrease in tips for their servers, but Usas adds that restaurant workers were not asking for this wage increase.
Wheatfields Restaurant has also had to increase their menu prices over the past few years, as well as cutting down on support staff. Part time manager and lead server Bridget Gardner says that while her tips have not gone down drastically, she has noticed a slight decrease over the years. “I would definitely prefer higher tips rather than an overall wage increase,” she says.
Other Saratoga Springs restaurants have had to adjust their budgets. Nancy Bambara, Vice President of DZ Restaurants including Boca Bistro, Forno Bistro, and Chianti’s, says that they have had to make changes in other areas of their overall budgets, so as not to increase menu prices. “Most servers use their cash wage to pay taxes, and live off of their tips, so a lot of staff probably will not notice the increase, other than having extra money to go towards taxes,” adds Bambara.
Bartender and server at The Mercantile Kitchen and Bar, Eliza Jelenik was not aware of the yearly cash wage change, and has not seen a change in her tips. “Tipping really depends on each customer, but I’ve never had a customer mention the wage increase to me,” she says. However, Jelenik believes that the law will affect business, and it would not surprise her if her boss had to increase menu prices.
Many feel that the wage increase was unnecessary and not well thought out. “It’s an Albany cash grab,” states Usas. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s so many other things that the government could be worrying about right now.” Bambara says that when the increase was first proposed, many lawmakers and government workers did not even realize that there was a difference between a regular minimum wage and a minimum wage for tipped service workers.
Gardner believes that if there are going to be any changes to the cash wage, it should vary between restaurants. “Different restaurants expect different things. Here [Wheatfields] servers need to know a lot about wine and food, rather than at diners, where you’re mostly just serving people,” she says. “Tips make up for that extra knowledge; pay shouldn’t be the same all across the board.”
Despite the wage increase and possible menu changes that diners may see, Usas emphasizes that tipping standards should not change. “You should still be tipping accordingly based on good service,” he says.
“Servers support everyone, even the lawmakers who are responsible for the wage increase. Their profession should be treated respectfully.”