WRDE | by Mallory Metzner
House Bill 94 aims to raise the $2.23 base wage rate for tipped employees to 65 percent of the state’s minimum wage per hour. With a $9.25 minimum wage in Delaware, these employees would start with $6 an hour before tips. However, some bartenders and servers worry this proposed law would cause customers to think they’re making more money and tip them less.
Under HB 94 servers and bartenders would see their base wage rate increase every time the minimum wage increases in Delaware so that it stays at that 65 percent.
“The perception is that we don’t really work to earn a minimum wage, we work to earn maximum tips,” says bartender Peter Briccotto.
In 1989, the General Assembly changed the hourly wage for tipped employees to a flat $2.23 per hour. Before that they made 66.67 percent of the state’s minimum wage. The bill’s sponsors want to restore a similar system.
“Tipped workers are dependent on tips, but they are not assured of those tips,” says Representative John Kowalko
Briccotto says he believes the bill has good intentions, but that it is not a good solution.
“I think an unintentional consequence would be that the general public starts to assume that we are making $9, $10 and maybe eventually even $15 an hour, so the necessity to leave a 20 percent tip is down to 5 percent,” Briccotto says.
Restaurants have to pay the difference if their employees don’t make the state’s hourly minimum wage rate after tips. Some worry that raising their base wage rate would not only cost employees their tips, they say it would cost restaurants a lot of money.
“They would have to raise the prices,” says Wheelhouse bartender Tamaron Dignoti.
“They know what we made and they know how hard we work to make a living and I think people do look out for us,” Dignoti says.
Representative Kowalko wants to give employees a fair shot at making a livable wage and believes HB 94 would do that.
“Instead of $2.23 an hour, you’re going to give them $6 an hour. You got to add $3.80 to that meal fee. They’re going to do four or five tables an hour,” Kowalko says.
Kowalko says tipped employees need HB 94 now more than ever with restaurants still struggling under COVID-19 restrictions. Briccotto says lawmakers can help in other ways and that now is not the time to change the way employees are paid as restaurant capacity is still limited.
“A lot of folks locally know me from Winter Wonderfest and other charitable work,” Briccotto says. “The reason I can do those things is because I’m so fortunate to be a bartender and make a maximum amount of money.”
The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Economic Development Banking Insurance and Commerce Committee.