Should Oklahoma raise minimum wage for the service industry?

You’re taking your partner out for a date to your favorite restaurant. The lighting is dim, the wine is fine, and the chicken-fried steaks will satisfyingly rest in your gut for the rest of the evening until you go home to Netflix and snooze. The server, who has been on their feet all day, feigning interest and pleasantness, drops off the check. Right above where you scribble your signature is a dot matrix printed line, to the left of it the word: “TIP.”

That’s what the server (or bartender) relies on to pay their bills. Their hourly wage in Oklahoma is $2.13, which equals $17.04 during an 8 hour shift, and that’s before taxes. The vast majority of bars and restaurants do not supply health insurance, and if you’re sick and can’t get your shift covered, well, pack up your apron and look for another job.

There’s been a movement across the country to change the way that service industry people are paid, and it’s come up in conversation locally often in the last few years. Cities like Seattle have pushed to remove the tipping system entirely, making sure that front of house (FOH) employees are paid a straight wage and tipping doesn’t exist There are a few states that pay tipped employees over $10/hr, some that pay over the minimum required, but does that traditional tipped system really work for anyone?

Let’s lay out some pros and cons:

Pros:

• Making a higher wage takes some of the financial pressure off of relying on tips to pay your rent as a FOH worker. Are you working a slow shift because the weather sucks, or there’s a college football game and you’re not on Campus Corner? Cool, you can still plan on paying your bills the same way that people who work in offices and are reading this article on a slow Monday morning can count on getting their same hourly/salary.

• For the consumer, service can be better when your FOH person isn’t relying on tips. There’s less pressure for both sides, since we already know how much the bill is gonna be and how much the employee’s check is gonna be.

• Raising minimum wage for service industry workers (or really, ALL workers) helps out people that work in fast food restaurants, who work their asses off and come home smelling like grease. Places like McDonalds or any of the 500 fried chicken restaurant chains on 23rd street are all billion-dollar corporations, yet the people who actually do the hard work and make the food and take the orders are amongst the lowest-paid in the country, with Oklahoma’s minimum wage still set at the federal minimum of $7.25/hr.

• This model can also help out back of house (BOH) workers- the cooks and busboys and dishwashers who arguably work harder than the FOH but for way less money. Raising minimum wage could equalize the disparity between restaurant employees who both put in a lot of labor but are paid very differently.

Cons:

• As much as it sounds great to have a reliable source of income that doesn’t flex, walking away with cash at the end of the day or week is unbeatable, at least as long as you don’t go and blow it. It’s a rush like gambling, working a crazy busy night and then going home with a few hundred dollars in cash.

• Prices would have to increase. For many locally owned restaurants, margins can be slim, especially in the first few years of operations. However, if you’re already used to leaving that customary 20% tip at the end of the night, seeing the prices of your food and beverage rise appropriately won’t leave an actual dent in your wallet (except for city taxes, but that’s a different story).

• You’ll have to hear restaurant owners bitching and throwing fits and firing staff because that extra labor money means they’ll cut their vacation time down to only 8 exotic trips out of the year. Seriously, just about every other restaurant owner I’ve worked for goes on an ‘R&D’ trip to LA or the Bahamas every two months, then comes back and figures out how to cut costs. This would only get worse.

Now that we’ve laid out the big reasons why this would be good or bad, you can get mad and fight each other in a Medieval Times style battle royale in our comment section. I bet those guys who play the knights at Medieval Times make a lot of money…