How Minimum Wage Changes Affect Tipped Workers and Diners

More than a year into his experiment, the city – where dining, including a diverse collection of independent restaurants, makes up the third largest sector of the local economy – is still torn. Trupti Patel, a waitress, said she received death threats for openly supporting ending the minimum wage and was still harassed. Another waitress who voted for the change, Britt Lucas, said that even today she doesn’t talk to some people because they disagree on the issue.

It’s still unclear exactly how the restaurant industry will fare as the city slowly raises the tipped wage to match the standard minimum wage by 2027. But after surveying more than 25 owners, chefs, employees and diners, we We can offer a few takeaways about how the policy, known as Initiative 82, is working so far:

The number of restaurants in Washington has actually increased – to 3,472 last year, 3,307 in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And new ones continue to open; according to Yelp, there were 283 openings in 2023, up from 254 the year before.

But many owners still fear that as the salary increases, the additional expenses will drive them into bankruptcy. Rick Allison, who runs several restaurants in the District, Virginia and Maryland, said labor costs at his King Street Oyster Bar, in Washington, are up 12 percent from a year ago. He blames the initiative. Coupled with rising rents and inflation, looming wage increases are unsustainable, he said.

“People are going to close,” he said, adding, “My next restaurant is in Virginia.”

Chris Kennedy, bar co-owner Reliable tavern, views current challenges as short-term growing pains. “It’s going to be a tough few years in Washington, but we’ll find our way.”