Lisa

Former business owner

 

I’m not a tipped worker and never was, but I was a restaurant chef for many years and I employed restaurant workers as a private chef and a caterer.

 

I was Carly Simons private chef for a while, catered her wedding, also catered Diane Sawyers wedding. I’ve worked for the University of Michigan as the Chef for UM President Bolinger, but I started out on Martha’s Vineyard working as catering and executive chef at Feasts and then Jaguar, which was mine.

 

In the years that I was hiring the most, during the eighties, the minimum wage was about $3.50 but I hired no one below $8 in my kitchen. I also made management give the workers other things, like housing.

Martha’s Vineyard is a resort island and it’s very expensive to live there, so I always provided my workers with housing that was not free but affordable. I also made sure the workers who stayed until the end of their contract got a $2 an hour a bonus for every hour they worked, and then they could pay their rent out of that.

Well, the last year I worked, the owners screwed everyone out of their bonus. I called the department of labor and told them the workers could not to pay their rent and I lost a job out of this at a time when I was making $25 an hour.

I had opened the Jaguar in 1988 and that was the year the economy went down, and when that happens, people don’t’ spend 60,000 a month to rent a house. I had to close. Not because I paid my workers a reasonable wage, which I always did, but because the economy went south.

Restaurants close all the time, for lots of reasons, but the notion that paying your workers a little bit more than a few dollars an hour causes restaurants to close is just ridiculous. If you charge a few pennies more you can make up for whatever you spend on wages, and you’ll have higher retention. Plus, in the states that pay regular wage plus tips like California, the percentage of successful restaurants is higher than the states where they don’t pay regular wages.

Wage theft in the restaurant industry is massive. I saw a study done of 9,0000 restaurants and the wage fraud in those 9,000 restaurants equaled in one year 5.5 million dollars. I’ve studied this, and all across the country it’s estimated $15 billion a year is lost in wage theft.

It will not break your business to pay your workers well. The $12 an hour increase, to me, is not even enough of a living wage, but we have to start somewhere.