Restaurant Owner: Restaurants Need a Seat at the Policy-Making Table

Citizens of the Rail: Restaurant political issues.

As we embark on our second full year of delivering The Daily Rail, we have committed to delivering more of your insights and opinions about our industry. In a recent post, I suggested that our industry needs to band together the same way others do to ensure our voice is heard.

We view each of you as Citizens of the Rail and members of our newly formed ‘Restaurant Party.’ After all, our industry is the second largest employer in the United States, immediately behind the government.

Well, turns out I sparked some emotions because the response included below was from an incredibly thoughtful reader who calls him/herself Mac. The post is a little long, but totally worth it. Mac completely understands our meaning on the need for us to work together and in perfect tone expresses the tension between protecting our business and caring for our people. Read for yourself why we love the Citizens of the Rail.

Restaurant Party, Small Business Party, Backbone of America's Economy Party... call it what you will, but it is high time we had more representation and a seat at the table for policy-making decisions that affect our industry & economy!

I have always maintained that there should be a mandatory qualification for any member of Congress, cabinet, court, or any federal/government post that is responsible for policy making decisions affecting our economy to have had to be responsible at some point in their career for conducting payroll.

In my opinion, there is nothing that can better prepare and qualify a person to understand the real world economics than to have to sweat out an approaching payday hoping and praying that there will be enough funds in your account to cover that payroll knowing that so many lives depend on that paycheck being good.

Are you ready to join the Restaurant Political Party?

Having a Restaurant Party would certainly bring that experience and mentality to the forefront! We in Texas are very fortunate to have a significant number of restaurateurs as State Legislators....but not enough yet!

I think [Andrew is] right on point on [his] immigration reform comments. From a personal perspective, I feel very strongly that we need to act now on developing a common sense strategy and implement a policy regarding border control and immigration reform. From a business perspective, as a restaurant owner, I am compelled to fight any legislation that would deport undocumented workers.

Restaurant immigration issue

I would absolutely have to shut down my operations if all my BOH guys had to ship out. I am so sick of hearing the argument that "illegals are taking the jobs of Americans." I have opened several restaurants in Texas over the years and of the hundreds of BOH positions I was hiring for, I can count on my fingers & toes the number of Caucasian or African-American applicants I have had applying for cook or dishwasher jobs. It is hot, hard work, and not a job that people typically get excited about. But there happens to be a very specific group of human beings who ARE very anxious to work and earn money for their families, and we gratefully employ them.

The Hispanics who work in my businesses are overwhelmingly the hardest working and most dependable staff I have, and I fight to find ways to pay them as much as I can afford because they are some of my BEST EMPLOYEES! Which brings me to the subject of minimum wage...

In my 35 years of managing or owning restaurants, I have NEVER PAID ANY EMPLOYEE MINIMUM WAGE. I do not consider what servers are paid to be minimum wage because their tips are considered wages and I pay taxes on all those wages. I pay my dishwashers $10 - $12 and my line cooks $12 - $16. I would love to be able to pay them more, but contrary to popular belief, all restaurant owners aren't driving around in a new Ferrari every year.

Restaurant minimum wage issue

My biggest concern with this conversation is the fact that somehow the unions have managed to turn the topic from minimum wage to living wage. Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage. It was intended to ensure that employers paid their workers and stop the slave labor sweat shops. It was intended to be a STARTING POINT to give people a chance to become employed and earn money. Meanwhile it gave employers a chance to employ someone in a low skill level position without having to commit substantial wages, while not having any idea of the quality of work or commitment level they will get from that employee.

Living wages should never be mandated -- that is called socialism. There are too many people out there who are healthy and fully capable of working, but choose not to, and make myriad excuses as to why they are not working. There are also people out there who are employable and capable, but circumstances beyond their direct control have put them in a situation that prohibits them from being able to hold down a job at a particular time. And then there are the unemployable -- disabled, elderly, etc., who are not capable of performing a job to earn a wage.

For those folks we already have systems in place -- disability pay, welfare, etc. For the former group, they need to have the motivation to get up off their tuckus and go to work! And I believe those folks who don't have any particular training, skill set or education SHOULD have to start in a minimum wage position. Because I am certain that if they show up to work every shift on time and show that they are happy to have a job and earn money, they will not be earning minimum wage for long.

That is the beauty of our country and the benefit of free-market economics. It is absolutely the very rare exception that a full-time, hard-working, dependable employee is stuck in a minimum wage position for an extended amount of time -- especially in times, like now, where the labor market is as tight as I have seen it in 20 years or more! And forcing us to pay someone $15/hr for a low skill level job will just encourage apathy and laziness and will not compel anyone to strive for more.

I do not agree with any kind of mandated increase in minimum wage that would be tied to anything other than maybe inflation rate. Is that number $7.95/hr? $9.00/hr? $12.00/hr? I don't know. I don't think an employer should have to pay my 16 year-old-son $9/hr or more for his first part-time job sweeping floors in a warehouse on the weekends. As a matter of fact, I want my son to learn the value -- outside of a paycheck -- of a hard day's work, and be motivated to improve his lot in life by working hard to achieve his goals.

Here is what I do know: Employers should never be mandated to pay every person who walks in the door a wage that can support a family of four. And I darn sure know I should not have to accept a decision made by someone in Washington, D.C. who has never owned their own business and had to fund a payroll!