Miami-Dade County

Miami airport reverses course, will allow automatic gratuities at restaurants

Tipping at Miami Airport

Miami-Dade County was planning to force MIA restaurants to get rid of auto gratuities, citing a 1975 code against soliciting a tip. Waiters say without auto gratuities they make little more than the $5 an hour minimum wage because few travelers tip.
Up Next
Miami-Dade County was planning to force MIA restaurants to get rid of auto gratuities, citing a 1975 code against soliciting a tip. Waiters say without auto gratuities they make little more than the $5 an hour minimum wage because few travelers tip.

The Miami-Dade aviation department on Friday reversed its decision on automatic gratuities and will allow airport restaurants to include an 18% tip on checks.

The about-face comes 10 days before the department was going to require restaurants to get rid of automatic gratuities, citing a 1975 county code that says airport workers can’t “solicit a tip.” The Miami Herald published a story Thursday about the airport restaurant workers’ concerns about their wages plummeting without the automatic tips. Some restaurants have had tips included for years, and the code has gone largely unenforced.

Airport director Lester Sola said Mayor Carlos Gimenez called him about finding a remedy to the situation on Friday, and the two officials called the county attorney’s office, which informed them that Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz was already working on fixing the code to allow for tips. Sola said he was unaware that Diaz was working on changing the code when he sent a letter to airport restaurants in March.

“I can’t ignore a section of the code,” he said. “The department was not aware.”

A spokesperson for Diaz said Friday that he has already reserved the right within the county’s legal department to have legislation drafted to fix the tipping issue and hoped to have a bill before the full board for its next regular meeting Tuesday.

At least one other commissioner is on board. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said she was “concerned” by the Herald story and wanted to preserve automatic gratuities for airport workers. She said she planned to introduce legislation to let the automatic tips continue.

“I think it’s a disservice to our employees,” said Levine Cava, who is running for county mayor in 2020, of the airport’s current plans. “I’m quite concerned about it.”

A customer complained

Greg Chin, a spokesman for the aviation department, said a customer complaint spurred the crackdown on auto gratuities. Chin provided the Miami Herald with the complaint from January 19, 2019, in which a traveler griped about the quality of the food and the automatic 18 percent tip on a check for a party of two.

Gimenez provided a different rationale for the crackdown Friday, saying one of the restaurants that did not have the auto gratuity in place complained to the aviation department.

“We had one of the vendors say, ‘Hey, you’re not enforcing your own code,’ ” said Gimenez. Restaurant companies HMS Host, Areas USA, and Global did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Not all commissioners are in favor of automatic gratuities.

Last year the commission passed a living wage law for airport workers requiring restaurants and stores to pay their workers at least $13.23 per hour with health insurance or $16.40 without it. But commissioners excluded tipped workers from the law, leaving their wages at the state minimum of $5.44 an hour.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan sponsored that bill. On Friday she said she prefers tips be suggested, not automatic.

“I understand there is confusion because some are charging and some are suggesting,” she said. “The way the current policy is written it’s only supposed to be a suggested tip.”

Gimenez’s office issued a statement saying the mayor had ordered the halt to canceling automatic tips at the county airport. He said the revised law must include requirements that restaurants turn over gratuities to the employees and notify customers that a tip was included in their bill.

“It’s important to enforce the law, but in this case, the law needs to be updated,” Gimenez said.



Related stories from Miami Herald

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.


Support my work with a digital subscription

SUBSCRIBE TODAY
  Comments