I Know I’m Not a Member, But…

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

There is seldom a day that goes by that I don’t take a call from someone who is not a member of the RI Hospitality Association, but who wants some free advice on a situation or issue that affects our industry, and of course that business. I’m sure my counterparts across the nation can attest to this fact as well.

With burgeoning legislative and regulatory pressure on almost every aspect of our industry mounting by the day, many business owners are looking for direction from us, something typically saved for membership. These callers believe membership is out of their financial reach, when in reality, membership is an incredibly reasonable investment – often as little as $2 per day. I don’t know how any business owner cannot invest this small amount of capital as an insurance policy to protect their industry – and their own bottom line.

Some owners tell me that they don’t need membership as they are going to take on legislators and issues on their own. This is a losing proposition. You see, even if owners are proactive and take an active stance in testifying against legislation at the state house, without being part of a group, their voice is not amplified and is many ways is not counted. The sayings, ‘there is power in numbers,’ or ‘it takes a village’ have never rung truer than in facing upcoming legislation.

A perfect example is our victorious New England Patriots, winners of this year’s Super Bowl. Tom Brady is not going to win any games on his own. While he is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, he is only as effective as his linemen, receivers, defense and coaching staff. In the same vein, a single business owner will not defeat legislation at the state house. It’s imperative to become part of the hospitality team.

As I write this column, Rhode Island has just undertaken another minimum wage increase with calls to raise the hourly wage to $15.00 in the next few years. Legislation was just introduced to try and eliminate the Rhode Island tip credit. The tipped wage is currently $3.89/hour in Rhode Island, compared to $3.75 in Massachusetts. This is after two separate wage hikes of 50-cents each in 2016 and 2017. However, no one in any state makes $3.89/hour. Federal and state law requires that if a server does not make at least minimum wage in tips, the employer must compensate for the difference. Thus, the very least a tipped-wage employee will ever receive is the state’s current minimum wage, currently at $10.50 per hour.

The elimination of the tip credit would be an unmitigated disaster for our industry and something that business owners could not afford and that servers, overwhelmingly, do not want to see happen. Research from the National Restaurant Association shows that, on average, tipped employees make between $19-$25/hour – well beyond Rhode Island’s current minimum wage. The last time legislation was filed to eliminate the tipped wage in Rhode Island, RIHA members with tipped employees showed up in force at the state house to testify AGAINST the bill.

Wage issues – minimum wage and tipped wage - are an evergreen opportunity for organized groups and politicians alike. This is just one aspect of the many pieces of legislation that RIHA is currently monitoring and actively fighting. Issues like this affect EVERYONE in our industry – nobody is immune. To our members who understand that in order to combat these business-threatening measures, we need financial resources through membership - I say thank you.