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Boundary Stone tweet tips off ruckus over restaurant minimum wage bill
By Tim Carman and Fritz Hahn,
If bar owners needed a reminder to think carefully before talking about politics and other sensitive topics on Twitter, they got it today.
Gareth Croke, one of the owners of Bloomingdale's Boundary Stone, does not support a bill before the D.C. City Council that would raise the minimum wage for bartenders, servers and other tipped employees from $2.77 to $8.25 per hour. Though he's not a member of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, which represents more than 800 restaurants and bars, Croke signed an online petition that the group had created. And then he did something he regrets: he used the petition site's "Share on Twitter" button to tweet his support of the petition to Boundary Stone's 2,600 followers.
The blowback was immediate, unequivocal and intense. Patrons who said they were in Boundary Stone "3x this week" expressed disappointment about the tweet's language. Others said they wouldn't go back until Boundary Stone gave its tipped employees minimum wage. Some said they'd never return. A counter petition sprung up onMoveOn.org, demanding a raise for all tipped employees. @BoundaryStoneDC began trending on Twitter, though for all the wrong reasons.
Some tweets directed at the bar demanded to know why Boundary Stone wants employees to "keep making a minimum wage of just $2.77 an hour," but that's not true – to do so would be illegal, and it gets to the heart of the industry's position: Restaurant owners are already required to pay all employees the city's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, whether they're tipped or not. The difference is that the wage is calculated for bartenders and servers by taking their base salary – as low as $2.77 per hour, but also higher – and adding whatever their share of gratuities is. This usually exceeds the $8.25 per-hour minimum wage, owners and employees say, sometimes by a level of two or three times. But if it does not average out over the course of a week, bar owners are legally required to pay the difference between the worker's wage and $8.25.
Croke, who points out that he has "worked as a tipped employee in this city for over a decade," says that he supports paying all employees at least the minimum wage, and that his front-of-house employees are "comfortable." But if his business was required to pay every employee at least $6 more an hour before tips, there would be repercussions. Prices would rise noticeably, thanks to the industry's narrow profit margins. On slower nights, servers and bartenders would be sent home early, meaning some would make less than they do now. "I don't think people realize the trickle down effect of what it would do, stunting the great restaurant industry," he says.