Op-ed: As a restaurant owner I question minimum wage process

[Editor’s Note: The city of Berkeley is considering raising its minimum wage with an eye toward related policy changes in San Francisco. In his recommendation to the city’s Labor Commission, which has been studying the issue, Mayor Tom Bates asked the panel to consider setting special rules for tipped workers that could potentially grant an exception to the minimum wage for tipped workers. A final determination has not yet been made but, thus far in the discussions, commissioners have said they don’t believe tipped workers should be excluded from the new rules.]

There are 44 states in the union that are tipped wage states, and California isn’t one of them.

Berkeley is always about doing things first. This “first” is correcting what’s wrong in California with hiking wages up and up and squeezing out the small businesses by not backing out tipped servers. They make $20-$30 per hour. On a good night, they make more than the owners do per hour. We are talking about hiking a three-pronged increase (wages, taxes and worker’s comp fees) onto small businesses here in Berkeley. For our restaurant industry in Berkeley, it’s mainly mom-and-pop shops.

A “tipped” employee is legally defined, and it does not include the counter jar that is shared. And, if floor servers are required to tip out the kitchen, managers or any back of the house staff, it is illegal to make them do so. They should know that.

A woman from the Restaurant Opportunity Center who was quoted in a recent Berkeleyside story about minimum wage policy sounds as if she has never made payroll nor owned a small business.  She sounds completely academic in her approach, and inexperienced to speak for the small business industry. She doesn’t separate them in the context of her statements, and it is extremely naive of her to be making such broad statements confusing corporations and small businesses.

The restaurant industry as a whole is the biggest entry-level employer in the country. Why would you want less and less high-quality small business employers in the marketplace? They have no idea what they are doing by raising the minimum wage without some kind of relief for tipped employees.  In the long run it will be pushing out opportunity as it financially squeezes small business, which will be replaced by corporate chains.

The city’s Labor Commission also has no experienced members on the board from the small business community. None of them have ever had to make payroll, run a small business, or know what they are putting forward onto a small business. They don’t know what they are talking about.

Again, people who run small businesses are telling them it’s ludicrous not to include a tip credit.  They should walk in our shoes for one day and then make their decisions.

Minimum wage ‘tip credit’ idea gets cold shoulder (06.21.13)
Berkeley considers city-wide minimum wage hike (06.18.13)

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500-800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Natalie and Todd Kniess co-founded the Berkeley Restaurant Alliance. They own a business in Berkeley and work with Berkeley restaurants to represent them when changes affect the small business restaurant industry.