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Santa Monica Delays Minimum Wage Vote to Better Address Tipping in Restaurants

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The debate washes ashore in Santa Monica.

Herringbone, Santa Monica
Herringbone, Santa Monica
Wonho Frank Lee
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Here’s a line that should surprise absolutely no one: turns out there’s a need for nuanced reasoning in this ongoing tips-vs-minimum-wage-vs-service-charges debate in Los Angeles. Just ask the Santa Monica City Council, which delayed voting last month on a citywide minimum wage hike until at least December.

LA Weekly has details of the drama, which apparently came to a conversational (and decidedly polite) head at a public hearing last month that stretched into the morning hours. At issue is the incremental rate and dirty details of a plan to raise the city’s minimum wage roughly adjacent to Los Angeles’ larger overall plans. Everyone on the council agrees that a $15 minimum wage by the year 2020 is ideal, but the nuts and bolts of how to make that happen are still up for change.

Santa Monica seeks to close that so-called loophole by mandating those funds be treated the same as regular tips

One big issue: service charges. As more L.A. restaurants revert to a forced service charge model in order to fairly distribute both front and back of house money, Santa Monica seeks to close that so-called loophole by mandating those funds be treated the same as regular tips would be. that’s a small but crucial crux — and one L.A. proper has failed to come to terms with — and it’s apparently gunking up the works bad enough to call a recess until December.

There are other small minimum wage changes at work for the non-restaurant industry as well, like a living-wage ordinance for hotel workers and mandatory paid sick leave across the board.

Whatever the eventual outcome, it’s like to make some folks happy at the expense of others. There have so far been few perfectly clean options for tackling this ongoing debate, though folks like Danny Meyer in New York are certainly doing their utmost to address the issues.