Celebrity chef: $5 more per meal if minimum wage supporters succeed

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SEATTLE — Supporters of a $15 minimum wage have been rallying loudly for months. But on Wednesday, some restaurant owners were speaking out, saying higher wages will mean higher prices for meals.

Business owners say they are not just worried about cutting jobs and making payroll but they are also concerned about passing on higher prices to consumers and how that will affect their business in the long term.

“We are spelling out disaster for a lot of people,” said Rob Wilson, who owns the Diller Room.


Restaurant owner Tom Douglas says raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost him about $15 million more a year. (Photo: KCPQ-TV)

Wilson said a $15 an hour wage means he would have to cut 20 percent of his staff.

Over at Palace Kitchen, owner Tom Douglas said his consumers will have to pick up the tab.

“Everything is going to be more expensive,” Douglas said.

The wage hike would cost Douglas, he said, an extra $5 million each year. That means at Palace Kitchen, a meal will be about $5 more.

“We are a little higher-priced restaurant than many. What it would average out at a Burger King, I don’t really know,” Douglas said.

But Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant — a vocal support of a $15 minimum wage — said, “It actually helps restaurants do better and, yes, prices go up, but look at the numbers. Prices go up 2 to 3% and wages went up by 25%.”

Sawant said there is enough wealth in Seattle to go around. She wants big businesses to be taxed more.

“If small businesses cannot pay, they should be subsidized,” Sawant said.

Sawant is proposing that nonprofits and small businesses pay $11 at first, giving them three years to reach $15.

But Wilson said it’s not that simple; he wants more of a dialogue with city leaders to come up with a better plan.

“We don’t feel like there is an open forum where we can talk about this reasonably,” Wilson said.

“I think every one of our Seattle City Council people, and our mayor, needs to run a business to figure out what makes sense. They are talking out of their consciousness and not out of reality,” Douglas said.

Douglas added that he would be in favor of phasing in a wage hike but he wants it to apply to everyone — not just small businesses.

“What I would hate to see is that people are losing their benefits to get their $15,” Douglas said.

Wilson said many people in his position are afraid to speak up and that is why he has started a weekly meeting for small business owners.

On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray released this statement.

“Our broad stakeholder process is on track and making good progress. There was always the potential for individuals to chart their own course as is their right, but I remain committed to a solution that is inclusive, thoughtful, lasting, and that minimizes unintended consequences to the greatest degree possible. I believe we are on target to deliver a proposal that raises the minimum wage while accomplishing these objectives.”

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  • Esco

    Which means as a customer I avoid your restaurant and do more cooking myself. When everyone else follows suit, your employees get fired and YOU close shop. Nothing personal but saving money comes first for me, I have many other expenses to tend to.

  • guest

    it is wrong when people that are NOT business savvy are dictating how existing businesses should structure their wages. and what next? this is a recipe for disaster based on lazy people wanting more but not willing to do what it takes to get more.

  • Lvmyhugs

    Wa state is one of the states that actually pay their restaurant employees min wage plus tips. most/not all other states pay below minimum wage and they actually have to "work" for their tips in order to make up the difference. Personally if they start paying waiters and waitresses more than the service will become even worse than it already is in this state. I can say this because I live in WA and last few times I have been out..To Applebees, Red Robin, and other places the service was horrible. myself if they pay that high of a wage "when other jobs that don't even get tips don't get paid that" I will never tip again. that's a Given.

        • Joel

          Workers aren't being cheated. Minimum wage laws have been in place for years and work just fine. If you don't like minimum wage, work harder, obtain a skill, and move up the ladder. If you cannot help yourself (through no fault of your own, i.e. disabled, etc.), then let's institute more social programs and hike taxes across the board for EVERYONE. When you hurt businesses to the extent they are proposing, nobody wins. We aren't looking to get rich here, we just want to stay in business. Profits are the whole reason a person gets into business. Do suggest I start a business and work for free or next to nothing when I'm the person who takes all the risk and put up all of my cash to get into this? That far less fair than paying somebody $9.32/hour who doesn't have a college education.

    • Mike Robertson

      You've got that backwards Lymyhugs. I've been in this business for 43 years and I can tell you that when restaurant workers make more money, more professional people look at it as a better career and the quality of service goes up, not down. It's called a FREE market and I find it extremely offensive that you wrote "work". You've never been in the restaurant business have you? While there are lazy, unqualified people that shouldn't be in a particular business in most professions, the people in the restaurant industry WORK very hard. It's not an easy business and it's even harder when people like you degrade them. Here's a quote for you:
      The Industry
      Dave Barry once said, “If someone is nice to you but is not nice to the waiter then they are not a nice person.” Servers and bartenders know this to be unequivocally true. Be assured that anyone demeaning a waiter has usually not worked in the restaurant industry, or at least not for very long. It is “beneath” them.
      Everyone should work in “The Industry” for at least two years. The job will teach you to improvise; be quick on your feet; multi-task; prioritize; schmooze; problem solve; take responsibility; and save face. These are all skills important to business and/or employers.
      It will expand your tolerance, empathy, and intuition. It will sharpen your deductive abilities, define your confidence, and bolster your toughness. These are all qualities important to being a good and just person and a leader.
      It will introduce many friends. Some will become important for the rest of your life. Most will come and go. A select few will be memorable for how much misery they inflict upon everyone, and these are usually the folks in charge.
      Most importantly, The Industry will show you what people are really like with their guard down. They will half notice you as you drift in and out of their time. It’s a hard picture to take in. You will experience constant casual cruelties, incredibly irresponsible parenting and outright douchebaggery.
      Etiquette is a lost tradition. You will learn this quickly. Hopefully, it will make you more polite. It will certainly make you appreciate good manners more than you did before.
      You will see extraordinary kindnesses. You will be involved in intimately personal experiences. Perhaps you will be the catalyst of a first date that leads to a marriage. Perhaps you provide a sympathetic ear on the bar at just the right time to prevent tragedy.
      Just be aware of the dark side. The Industry means a life shifted into the shadow of everyone else’s. You work during everyone else’s party time. You party when everyone else sleeps. You sleep while everyone else works. Sometimes you will feel like a ghost. The only ones who can see you are your fellow members of this Secret Society.
      Most shifts are stressful. You will need to unwind. By the time you can, there will be no other choice but a bar with other Industry folks. You will have a great time. You will spend a lot of money. You will do it every night.
      Workers in restaurants and bars are second only to construction work in terms of alcoholism. It is a real danger.
      Health insurance? Sick Leave? Pensions? No. Paychecks are low to non-existent. Many American Industry workers are paid only in tips. Depending on others for your income can be either rewarding or depressing. And it is a mistake to dwell on the results. Move on to the next bill.
      The Industry can trap you. That’s fine if it’s what you want to do but many lose the thread of their life’s plan and The Industry claims them. Staying late, covering shifts, working on days off, constant long hours, it takes over your life and leaves you time for nothing else.
      But The Industry has many lessons to teach. Everyone should learn them. In many ways it is a microcosm of life in general. Do the best you can despite the pressure from all sides. Make what you can and save what you can. Keep your dreams in sight and do not succumb to the everyday grind. Tolerate the bad in people and embrace the good.
      The Industry is not for everyone, but everyone should learn this for themselves. To serve others is to learn more about yourself, and to learn more about yourself?
      That’s the point of life. – Chad R. MacDonald

  • Joel

    As an owner of two food and beverage establishments, I can say the profits are very, very thin and we are not in any way making off like bandits. Also worth noting–Kshama Sawant is either being misquoted or hasn't done her math–a price increase of 2-3% won't make it work for local bars and restaurants, it would need to be an increase of 20-30%. She also said wages are going up by 25%, which is false–the proposed increase is nearly 60%. I'd like to be present when any of you approach your employer and ask for a 60% pay increase…

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