To the Editor:
Having worked in the restaurant industry for 42 years, I have never been more disturbed than by what is transpiring right now in Maine. The restaurant industry as we know it is being threatened by outside forces looking to take control away from independent operators who make up the bulk of restaurants in our state. The threat is coming in different forms, but the most egregious is the guise of “helping” servers by the “people’s” referendum that included eliminating the tip credit.
The tip credit allows servers to be paid half of the minimum wage with a guarantee that if their tips do not make up the difference, the employer will.
Most servers in Maine make $20 plus per hour, and in my 42 years, I have not once heard of a server not making at least minimum wage through their tips. Eliminating this credit will cause an extreme jump in the cost of doing business, including payroll, workers comp, tax and insurance, causing restaurants to take drastic action.
At the Union River Lobster Pot, we take pride in our customer relationships. They are our family. We have fed multiple generations of many families, both local and from away. Over the past 30 years, we have celebrated many family events with these folks. These relationships can become intimate as we prepare and serve family meals. The relationship with our traveling customers is just as satisfying, as we share our beautiful “neck of the woods” with them. The staff, servers and food preparers alike find the work and these relationships very rewarding.
The elimination of the tip credit changes all that. In order to cover the increased cost of labor, restaurants are left with only bad choices. They include making cuts in staffing with layoffs, hire less people, cuts in the quality and portion size of food, cuts in hours open, limit operations, and raising prices significantly, making dining out cost prohibitive for the average family.
A switch from a service industry to technology and automation will not help. Tablets and kiosks used for ordering with a text message sent when your food is ready to be picked up may be the most tempting because the other choices are not why we are in the business.
All of these choices will have a detrimental effect on the servers. Servers now enjoy working in a flexible, fun industry with both personal and monetary rewards. With these changes, there will be fewer jobs and less money made at jobs that do remain. Across the state, tips already are going down due to public confusion about server wages. Small independent operators without the resources to weather such an extreme change will be squeezed out.
I fear that someday you will tell your grandchildren about these nice people called “servers” who smiled and talked to you. Servers who wanted to know about your day and what you like to do. Servers who listened to you even when you asked for lemon wedges without seeds. Servers who asked you what you like and brought you exactly what you asked for. Servers who filled your water glass and coffee cup without asking. Servers who wished you a good day and wanted to see you again. Servers who pampered you, nourished your body and soul, and then cleaned up the mess. Servers who cared.
At the end of the day, eliminating the tip credit hurts the very people referendum supporters claimed it would help – hardworking people who are making a good living in an industry they love. Please support the effort to reinstate the tip credit.
Union River Lobster Pot