Here's how Initiative 82 could transform DC's restaurant industry

This November will mark the second time in roughly four years that D.C. voters can decide how tipped workers get paid.

Just four years ago, a similar bill passed but the D.C. Council ultimately overturned it.

Initiative 82 would require D.C. employers to pay $16.10 an hour to tipped employees regardless of how much they earn in gratuity.

"You’ve got to treat the people who deal with the customers well," said Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage. "You’ve got to pay them well and that’s what we’re going to see in D.C. Better service, better restaurant industry." 

Currently, tipped workers make $5.35 as long as they make enough tips to meet that $16.10 threshold.

RELATED: 'Overwhelming majority' of DC restaurants did not disclose tipped wages: report

Those in favor of the initiative say many of these workers are struggling since the pandemic.

"These workers reported tips went way down because sales went down," Jayaraman said.

"They say harassment went way up. Lots of women reported being asked ‘take off your mask, so I can see how cute you are before I decide how much I want to tip you.’"

This bill also comes as countless restaurants in D.C. deal with staffing shortages.

"We’ve all seen the help wanted signs all over D.C. We’ve all seen sorry we can’t open on Mondays because we’re understaffed," Jayaraman said. "The tips are always unstable. Now, they’ll be guaranteed a stable based wage they can count on plus the tips."

Those who oppose the legislation argue operating costs at restaurants would increase and that many of the tipped workers in the District make well-beyond minimum wage with tips.

"Initiative 82 will negatively impact tipped employees, small businesses, and diners across the district. If passed, it would significantly limit the earning potential of DC’s tipped employees by as much as $10,000 annually.  Restaurant owners will be forced to raise menu prices, cut staff, add service charges to checks, and potentially close altogether. Restaurant operators and tipped employees are standing together and speaking out against this measure to save our restaurant industry."  - Julie Sproesser, Interim Executive Director, Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington

So would your tipping habits change if this passes?

"Depends on how much they raise the minimum wage," Alar Olljum said. "If they have a living wage then I think yeah then, the argument for having a tip of 20% would probably be a bit much."

"I think I would at least give 20% tips to waiters regardless of what they’re making because they work a very hard job," Dimtri Korolev said.

"It would actually depend on how well somebody served instead of ‘oh, I feel really bad unless I tip them,’" Kate Cornman added.

If passed, the new pay increase would be phased in over five years. Tipped minimum wage will be on the ballot in Maryland next spring.