It's Time to Start the Restaurant Party

In the 30 years I’ve spent toiling in restaurants, I have never seen a more harsh and divisive climate in our industry than today.

It’s as if the restaurant segment is a microcosm of our nation at large. Operators and owners are fighting to protect their interests, but have varied interpretations of how that is accomplished. On the other side, there is significant momentum towards increasing staff benefits like the minimum wage, paid time off and access to health insurance.

In my humble opinion, we are all in the same situation and we should be working together to solve our challenges as a community and not perpetuating the “us vs. them” mentality that is pervading our political discourse.

That is why I’m declaring my allegiance to the Restaurant Party.

Why a Restaurant Political Party?

Are you ready to join the Restaurant Political Party?

Our industry is no joke and its high time we behaved like we understood our economic impact. We employee the second most number of Americans after the government. Our industry is almost 5% of total GDP and there is hardly a citizen of our great republic that does not occasional avail themselves of our services.

For these reasons alone we should have more influence over our circumstances. That is precisely why I believe our industry is in need of its own party.

Restaurants Need to Be on the Same Page

The purpose behind a political party is to express the views of its members to society at large. Unfortunately, this is where we run into real problems as a group. We really don’t see the world or the role of our businesses with any uniformity.

Whether on issues of immigration, employee wages, overtime or benefits, it feels like operators confound their views with those of the left or right. We often neglect what’s best for our industry.

For example, Donald Trump ran specifically and pervasively on a policy of keeping our borders safe and turning back illegal immigrants. However, in our industry we are seriously dependent on many of these people to make our business models work.

The Issue of Immigration Reform

Immigration reform and the restaurant industry is a complex issue.

Given that some 20% of the line cooks in our industry are here illegally (not to mention the 28% of our dishwashers) at least 1 in 5 of the BoH staff you employ is an undocumented alien. While calling them “illegal” might be technically correct and politically satisfying, it doesn’t account for the thousands of you that have a personal relationship with one or more of these folks.

That’s why the Restaurant Party should simultaneously support more serious border controls and comprehensive immigration reform. If not, where do you think those cooks and dishwashers will come from to fill those positions?

Basic economics tells us that if we reduce the labor force significantly (as if our industry could endure more labor pool pressures) then you will increase the wages those fewer workers can demand. It’s labor supply and demand.

Therefore, if you are a member of the Restaurant Party, you will favor reform and enforcement over the incredible disruption that forced deportations will cause our industry -- and that doesn’t even remotely account for the cost of commodities exploding from the same cause.

The Issue of Minimum Wage

Restaurants need to combat the complicated issue of restaurant staff wages.

Another issue that our industry is at odds over is the minimum wage increases being driven across the nation. Our margins are so thin and the work so hard, we feel as if we can’t endure any further increases in our expenses. Never mind that there is little evidence that raising the minimum wage causes job losses, it will cause profit loss and aren’t we allowed to make money running our businesses?

Here the Restaurant Party member should focus on the reality. The current minimum wage is hardly a living wage and likely you have very few on your staff earning it, except for servers. Therefore, we favor a thoughtful and phased approach to mandated wage increases that appreciates the difference in financial needs of a teenager working in low wage restaurant position and a grown adult that is caring for him/herself and a family.

Additionally, wage legislation that spikes the minimum amount of income are a dangerous and destructive disruption. By thoughtfully phasing increases over time, we ensure the minimal disruption and give operators the time to manage them.

Time to Work Together

The two issues discussed in this post are at the heart of so much debate in our industry. We must address them together if we want any semblance of control over our own success. While we all compete for the same consumer spending that doesn’t mean we have no relationship to one another.

That is why I am suggesting membership in the Restaurant Party. We represent a major voice of industry in the United States, so we should start acting that way.

What issues do you think our industry should stand together on? Help us to understand your values and we will do our best to deliver you insights and information that reflect your deepest concerns.

What do you think? What are some other important platforms of the Restaurant Party? Leave your comments below!