finding great employeesUs vs. Them

Division is the flavor of the day. Everywhere you look people are choosing sides on one issue or another. When it comes to topics that impact the restaurant industry, the media at large coupled with political activists and outside special interest groups are all too eager to cherry pick controversial points in order to create polarized camps in support of their interests. Issues such as minimum wage, tips and sick leave are used to drive an artificial ideological wedge between restaurant owners and their employees. They carefully craft messages using inciting language to create their desired ‘Us vs Them’ scenario.  This results in derision and unnecessarily pits groups against each other–  groups that, in the end, want the same things.

Employers, servers, owners—we are all in this together.  Everyone has a place at the table.

The truth is, when it comes down to it, we are all on the same team. Many restaurant managers and owners work side-by-side with the cooks and wait staff day in and day out, doing different jobs, but working for the same goal.  Servers, chefs, dishwashers and owners alike are all valued members of the New Mexico restaurant industry, working together to provide the best experience possible to our customers. It is essential for us to establish camaraderie, find common ground and present a unified front on issues that impact us all.  Rather than having a fractured base, guided by individual interests, we need to realize that these issues affect everyone involved and develop solutions that allow us to move forward, united behind solutions that benefit everyone. Instead of allowing outside forces to determine our position, we need to focus on how the issues impact the industry.  This is OUR industry, and we need to strive to collectively ensure the best results for all New Mexico restaurants, their employees and those who rely on them.

Wage is on the Table

Most everyone can agree that, regardless of the position, employees deserve to earn a livable wage.  Restaurant employees work hard and many have families to support.  Owners know this.  When confronted with the issue of raising minimum wage, restaurant owners and managers recognize the need for employees to be appropriately compensated for their work; they are not in opposition because they want their employees to face financial hardship.   In fact, when talking to veteran servers, many mention the time the restaurant owner helped them out of a jam or gave them an advance to assist with a crisis.

We need to look at the industry as a whole. Admittedly, it is easy to see the benefit of increases in minimum wage immediately have on the paychecks of individual employees, but we have to collectively look at the long term results:

  • Can the restaurant they work at survive a minimum wage hike?
  • Will it result in positions and hours getting cut?
  • Will customers stop coming due to the inevitable increase in prices needed to sustain a huge wage increase?
  • Will the restaurant be there next year?

While everyone wants to get paid, if we only look out for our own interests we lose sight of the long term impact these decisions have on businesses and communities.

What about Tips?

One group in the restaurant industry that is hit hardest by unmitigated mandatory increases in the minimum wage is tipped employees.  The current language in the 2 bills pre-filed at the NM Legislature does not allow for a tip credit. Meaning that rather than a $3/hr increase that we see in minimum wage employees, the difference that needs to be accounted  for shoots up to a $10/hr raise per tipped wage employee.  Do the math:  for every $1 increase in salary for an employee that works 2000 hours in a year, that equals $2000. The current base wage for tipped workers is around $3. If this gets raised to $10  a $7/hr difference) that means $14,000 per year per employee. Imagine a restaurant in rural New Mexico with 10 servers having to come up with an additional $140,000 a year. In NO other industry are legislators asking employers to magically come up with an additional $140,000 per year. Where is this money expected to come from? There is no possible way for many longtime local establishments to reach this unrealistic increase in earnings demand. The only ways to offset the cost is by raising prices, cutting hour, laying-off employees or in the worst case scenario, closing the doors. In addition, many tipped employees actually favor the current tipped model where they are already guaranteed minimum wage with the potential to make much, much more. It’s ironic that many “wage activists” wanting to kill the tipped wage were never servers, and don’t truly understand the structure of the tipped wage system.

Where do we go from here?

While minimum wage is on the forefront now, we need to keep looking at the same big picture with all of the labor issues headed our way.  For example, the need for mandatory sick leave and accrued time off vary by situation. There is no one size fits all in the service industry, as the needs of restaurants and employee both need to be considered.  Overly restrictive leave laws take away flexibility that servers need in this industry, and costs employers thousands that they will have to make up somehow– often by cutting staff entirely.

When it comes to these issues that are used to divide us, remember: it is not owner vs. employee. It is unnecessary regulation vs. the restaurant industry as a whole.  It is not easy to put down the partisan language that we have all embraced to float our side to the top. If we can come together –owners, managers and employees to present a solid front and let the politicians and the media know that restaurants on New Mexico aren’t going to be pulled apart to fulfill their agenda. We are all in this together and we all have a place at this table.