I started my business, a bar and high quality pub grub eatery (think brie fondue on the menu alongside a hearty angus beef burger), in Portland, Oregon in 2006. The timing was less than perfect – we opened just two years ahead of the 2008 financial crash and the start of the worst recession in a generation – but even though the economy was tough, we succeeded in building a thriving business. 

When I launched the business, I started with 5 employees and space for 50 customers. Now I employ about 25 people and we’ve grown to accommodate 380 customers. 


My story is a classic food service success story. But there’s a wrinkle that calls into question one of the sacred cows of the industry: we’ve built this business while paying all of our employees more than triple the federal tipped minimum wage. 

I’m not trying to make a cheesy and self-serving personal brag here (I’ll save the bragging for our fondue). I’m trying to make a bigger point – a point about economic common sense, how Oregon has created economy-boosting jobs and supported a thriving food industry, and what this means for national policy. 

Because here’s the simple truth: the idea of shorting my tipped employees with anything below the basic minimum wage never even crossed my mind. Everybody gets paid at least the basic minimum wage… because here in Oregon, it’s the law of the land. It’s the law of the land in six other states, too. 

Now, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Sunday shows preview: As delta variant spreads, US leaders raise concerns MORE (D) of Washington has indicated she’ll propose legislation soon that would retire the old two-tiered system and make sure tipped employees nationwide receive the full minimum wage. I say it’s about time. 

Opponents of setting a common minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers claim paying servers and bartenders the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour – add it up, that’s $17.04 for an eight-hour shift – is a necessary fact of life for businesses to survive in the food service industry. 

But my story and the success of Oregon’s food industry prove otherwise. They prove we can do better for tipped workers… and when tipped workers do better, we all do better. 

The way I see it, the money restaurant and bar owners here in Oregon spend on payroll is an investment in economy-boosting jobs. My team regularly eats out at other restaurants; staff at those restaurants are customers at mine. That’s good for all of our businesses. 

I also know my staff seem happier than I was when I made under $3 an hour working as a server in Ohio 27 years ago. They’re happier because they take home a fair paycheck twice a month, unlike the weekly checks I deposited for less than $50 because the rest of my measly earnings went to taxes. They’re also less likely to quit. Lower turnover means we spend less time and money training new hires. 

Looking at it this way, other states that continue to pay tipped workers less than the basic minimum wage are shooting their economies in the foot. When workers don’t earn enough to pay for the basics – to pay rent, to pay for child care, and yes, to go out for dinner once in a while – that’s bad for the whole economy. 

Because here’s the thing: if jobs pay so little that people can work a full eight-hour shift and still walk away without enough money to buy a dinner out, those jobs are not going to bring more customers into my business. Those jobs are not going to be economy-boosting jobs. 

Recently, some restaurants in states that allow sub-minimum wages have been making headlines for adopting new pay scales that ensure their employees a real wage for every hour worked. I salute them. 

But we’re not going to turn the national tide for economy-boosting jobs one business at a time. We need public policies that speed the creation of economy-boosting jobs across the economy, including a shared minimum wage that applies to both tipped and non-tipped workers. 

We’re already doing it in Oregon and our restaurant industry is thriving. It’s time for Congress to get with the program and put the outdated two-tiered minimum wage policy where it belongs: in the history books.

Toms is the owner of Rontoms Lounge in Portland, Oregon and a member of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide network of local, independent small business owners.