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Restaurant owners and servers say eliminating tip credit will hurt business

Ellen Abbott
Joey's Restaurant in Syracuse

Hearings begin next month in New York to get input on whether the state should eliminate the tip credit, which allows tipped workers to be paid a lower wage as long as they make the full minimum wage if tips are included. 

But the organization that represents the state’s restaurant owners is building support against the idea.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says reevaluating the tipped wage is a question of compensating servers more fairly. Vanessa Littles who serves patrons at Joey’s, a well-known Italian restaurant in Syracuse, doesn’t agree.

“I make a very decent living. I came into the industry understanding what my wage would be and I want to keep it that way,” said Littles.

Joey DeCuffa, who owns Joey’s, said the ramifications will be disastrous for locally owned eateries, forcing some to go out of business, others to lay off employees, and ultimately, the public will pay for it.

“If this goes through, you’re talking about spending $20 for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs,” said DeCuffa.

Sam Dixon, a manager at Grimaldi’s Restaurant in Syracuse agrees that dining out will be a different experience if the pay for servers goes up.

“First of all prices are going to go up,” said Dixon. “Second of all, they’re not going to have the service, because the servers are going to be busy. There will be fewer servers on the floor. Food will take longer if we take someone out of the kitchen.”

The state’s restaurant association hopes to galvanize opinions like these for a series of hearings on the tipped wage that begin in March in Syracuse. 

State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleichut says many restaurant owners and servers aren’t aware that this idea is under serious discussion, so she's traveling around the state to get the word out.

“So every person we can get in the room, we are asking them to go back and tell five or ten people about it so they can go to the hearing and have an opportunity to testify,” said Fleichut.

Fleichut believes getting servers in front of state labor officials is key to winning this fight, like Lisa Campolo, another long-time server at Joey’s.

“I’m going to lose thousands of dollars a year from this,” she said. “I won’t gain anything from this. No way.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.