Column: Support the tip credit

Daniel Tucker

The restaurant industry supports my family. It’s helped me buy a house, two cars, and provided a stable middle-class lifestyle. Now, some out-of-state activists are trying to take that away — and I’m working with other servers to fight back.

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I started out in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher and soon became a line cook; a couple years later, I started serving tables, all while taking college courses. During a low time in my life, I returned to my hometown bar in Lansing in need of a second chance. That’s when I became a bartender — and that’s when I found my profession. My future — because of my experience and not despite it — is as bright as it has ever been at 36 years old as a bartender with 18+ years of restaurant experience.

Along the way I’ve made the best friends and met the love of my life and I started my own family. I am a proud father of four; I have two sons, 14 and 10, and two daughters, 5 and 4 years old. I can tailor my work schedule to fit my family life perfectly, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do that for their entire lives. We don’t need your pity; we travel and vacation year-round, and my kids who are in school get good grades and are very happy and healthy. And we do all of that based on the tip income my wife and I earn as a bartender and server (respectively).

Not everyone can do what we do. As a bartender I do simple tasks — like wiping tables and taking orders, cleaning floors and the occasional bathroom. I also do more complex tasks; keeping track of multiple drink orders during the busiest times of the night, juggling the demands of servers and customers — and doing it all with a smile and with a joke at the ready. Customers appreciate this level of service; their generosity through tip income enables me to earn many times more than the state minimum wage.

An out-of-state activist group called the Restaurant Opportunities Center is trying to change that. Like most states, Michigan’s minimum wage law sets a base wage for servers that is supplemented by our tip income. If servers, bartenders or any other tipped staff don’t make at least the minimum wage, our owners are legally obligated to make up the difference. (For me and every server and bartender I know, that’s not an issue; I earn roughly $30 an hour on average with tips included.)

Eliminating the tip credit would change that. It forces restaurant owners to give a raise to restaurant employees who already earn way more than minimum wage — forcing higher prices on customers, and leaving less money left over for staff in the heart-of-the-house.

After the state of Maine tried this, thousands of servers organized with the support of Republican and Democratic legislators to undo it — because they understood how harmful it would be to their livelihoods.

We stand to lose the professionalism, pride and dignity we have, only to be replaced with kiosks or the unmotivated “customer service” you receive in some fast-food restaurants.

We stand to lose our pubs, our diners and our “hole in the wall” dives that we love. I implore anyone listening, and even those not listening: Do not give this industry a face-lift it does not want or need or did not ask for. Please support the tip credit.

Daniel Tucker is a bartender in Lansing.