Tourism & Cruises

‘We just want to take care of our families.’ County OK’s automatic tips at Miami airport

Miami-Dade county commissioners voted Tuesday to allow Miami International Airport restaurants to include an 18 percent gratuity on meal checks as long as the menu and the bill alert the customer that the charge can be removed.

The new ordinance comes after Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s aviation department ordered restaurant and bars to stop automatic gratuities at the airport in April, citing a 1975 code that says airport workers can’t “solicit a tip.” The aviation department quickly changed course after the Miami Herald reported on the pending change and its severe impact on low-paid waitstaff already exempt from the county’s living wage rules.

Many airport workers make just over $5 an hour without tips because the county’s living wage law passed last year — requiring restaurants and stores to pay their workers at least $13.23 per hour with health insurance, or $16.40 without it — does not cover businesses with existing county contracts. Without automatic tips, workers say, their wages would plummet.

Some workers were shocked by the aviation department’s crackdown because they have had automatic tips in place for years.

“We’re asking for the ability to have something dependable,” Carlos Caballero, 24, who works at the Jose Cuervo Tequileria in Terminal D told aviation department officials in April. “We just want to take care of our families.”

Commissioners unanimously passed the ordinance Tuesday, which rewrites county law to explicitly allow solicitation of tips at airport restaurants and bars. The ordinance allows establishments to add suggested tips up to 18 percent on a check, as long as customers have the option to leave any gratuity they choose.

“I like the fact that you’re doing this, because at least it will have the suggested amount,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan. “You can always tip more than that if you want.”

Sponsor Jose “Pepe” Diaz added last-minute language to clarify that the ordinance applies to stand-alone bars as well as restaurants at MIA. He said the suggested tips on the bills were particularly important in Miami, given the large share of visitors from countries where gratuities aren’t the norm or are automatically added to the bill.

“We are an international airport,” he said. “A lot of people out there aren’t used to tipping.”

The ordinance passed 12-0. Commissioner Javier Souto was absent for the vote.

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.
Doug Hanks covers Miami-Dade government for the Herald. He’s worked at the paper for nearly 20 years, covering real estate, tourism and the economy before joining the Metro desk in 2014.
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