It’s time for a new approach. The pay structure in today’s restaurant industry is unfair in so many ways. As owners of small and large restaurants, as consumers and as a community, we need to consciously make decisions that will better not only ourselves, but also our industry.

One crucial aspect to this change is paying our restaurant industry employees a living wage and slowly getting rid of the antiquated notion of tipping. The Maine referendum that will slowly raise the statewide minimum wage and tipped minimum wage is a step in the right direction.

Let’s begin with some background. I starting working in this industry at 16. At 17, I was living in Philadelphia, where I was working a 10-hour shift at $9 an hour and was expected to work two of those 10 hours for free. This was at a four-star restaurant with an owner who is one of the biggest restaurateurs in the United States.

The servers there were paid $2 and change an hour, plus tips – which, from one table alone, could exceed $300. They arrived after the kitchen staff and left before we finished. As a cook, I was enraged at the wage discrepancy between the front of the house and the back of the house. Cooks today are making not much more than I was then, and the gap between the front of the house and the back of the house is getting larger.

Currently, the American consumer largely determines the pay of their servers through tips. This system is fraught with inequities, since whether or not someone gets tipped often has little to do with service.

At one extreme, you have a patron who leaves a generous tip because the food was delicious (note that neither the kitchen nor the restaurant ever sees any of that tip). At the other extreme, you have someone who does not leave any tip because they didn’t like some item on the menu. The first patron effectively decided that the server deserved $50 an hour, and the second patron effectively decided that the server deserved $3.75 an hour.


Maine has a huge food service-based economy, from source to table. Whether or not a restaurant is successful depends on all of its employees working as a team. The current pay system for restaurants does not encourage this. Something is fundamentally wrong with the way we perceive how we should pay for the services provided by the restaurant industry. I’m frustrated by this reality, and though I’m nervous about the change, I deeply feel that something needs to happen.

Over the past couple of months at both of my restaurants, Bao Bao Dumpling House and Tao Yuan Restaurant, my mother and business partner, Cecile, my director of operations, Chris Peterman, and my chef de cuisine at Tao Yuan, Saskia Poulos, have been discussing the approach to switching current and future endeavors to a no-tip system, where service is included in the cost of the meal.

Although this may cost us more money initially, we believe that it will come back to us tenfold in employee retention – the benefits of being able to pay everyone a living wage, providing access to paid vacation and health insurance and offering varied job roles and more opportunities for full-time employment so people can have a steady and stable income year round. Those people will then be able to live in the city they work in, spend money in the city they live in and become part of the community they serve.

I may be wrong. Maybe we will make the switch and what everyone says will be true. People will think we are too expensive because the service charge is included in the price. Good servers won’t want to work for us because their pay structure will change. Customers will be upset that they don’t get to decide if their servers deserved to be tipped.

But I believe we can do right by our employees and customers with this new structure, and still make a little money. Maybe it won’t be as much as before, but at least everyone will know not only that we care where our food comes from, but also that the people who make and serve it can live sustainable lives. That is why I am in support of raising the minimum wage, as I think it is a step in the right direction for the future success of our industry.

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