Like others on the wait staff, he sees the job as temporary, something to tide him over as he considers focusing more on his other line of work, teaching martial arts and boxing at a gym. He is single, so he doesn't feel as economically strained as some of his co-workers who are supporting spouses or children.

"For me personally, it doesn't affect me much because I make my tips here," he says of the debate over the minimum wage. "For people that have families, I think it would be good for them.

But Groff and another member of the wait staff, Meagan Myers, 22, both of whom live in their parents' home, say more money in their paychecks might allow them to move into their own apartments. Myers, who attends Anne Arundel Community College, said a raise would help with tuition both now and in the future, when she hopes to go to a four-year college to study marine biology.

She's had minimum-wage jobs before, as a lifeguard and a cashier at a store, and likes that at the restaurant she can make well above it, especially on weekends.

"You want to get the busy times," she said, remembering a recent Sunday when she worked a long day and made about $250.

Gauging the impact

Garner said he isn't making any threats about cutting staff, raising prices or closing locations should Maryland's minimum wage go up — at this point, he doesn't know what he would do. But he is concerned about what it means for the concept he and his two partners have for Glory Days, as a family-oriented restaurant and sports bar that has affordable food — the average bill is $15 per person — but also full table service.

"We risk that they'll go to Panera Bread instead of us," he said of the restaurant chain where customers order at a counter.

An increase in what his wait staff and other tipped employees are paid can't help but have a big impact on his operations, he said, because about two-thirds of his payroll hours are worked by them.

"We have a big staff. We're more heavily staffed than average," he said. "We're not trying to drain anyone, or overwork them."

The Restaurant Association of Maryland has not yet taken an official stance on the minimum-wage increase, although it has opposed it in the past. Melvin Thompson, the association's senior vice president for government affairs and public policy, said members share Garner's concern about the rate tipped employees might have to be paid as a result of increasing the minimum wage.

Thompson said the National Restaurant Association has found that tipped employees make a median hourly wage of between $16 and $22 when tips are factored in. Even though most of that comes from customers rather than restaurant owners, employers still have to pay Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes on the full amount, and employees pay income and other taxes on their tips as well.

"We're going to be focused in the early days of the session in educating legislators about the minimum wage," he said, particularly on the effect it would have on what tipped workers make.

But those who support raising the minimum wage for all workers say that tips can be unreliable and fluctuate depending on how many tables workers serve and how generous the customers are. And they often have to share a portion of their tips with other staff, such as those who seat customers or bus tables.

Tipped workers in other businesses, such as parking attendants, car washers and nail salon employees, are similarly beholden to factors beyond their control, from the weather to the economy.

Matthew Hanson, campaign director of Raise Maryland, which is leading the fight for a higher minimum wage, said those who make minimum wage have failed to keep up with inflation over the years. The current $7.25 minimum has been in effect since 2009.

"Every year we don't raise the minimum wage, low-paid employees get a de facto pay cut," Hanson said. "What this really comes down to is values: Are we going to reward hard work with fair pay?"

Raise Maryland's proposal would gradually increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016, and would increase the rate for tipped workers to 70 percent of that. The group will hold a rally to launch its legislative battle on Tuesday on Lawyers' Mall in Annapolis.

'It's really difficult'

Those at the bottom of the wage scale say an increase is necessary.