An editorial by Howard Hanna
In the last eight years, I’ve opened two restaurants: The Rieger in 2010 and Ça Va in 2014. Throughout that time, the federal minimum wage remained stagnant at $7.25 despite the rising cost of living. To me that seems profoundly unfair.
As a restaurant owner, I strongly support legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. I also support gradually phasing out the tipped minimum wage to assure all workers get reliable living wages whatever their position.
Two things are clear: First, the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with the cost of living – $7.25 comes to just $15,080 a year for full-time workers. And second, paying higher wages has real bottom-line business benefits.
One of the industries that would be most impacted by raising the minimum wage is the restaurant and hospitality industry, and that impact will be positive. In the past, restaurant work was a real path out of poverty for many. When my mother immigrated to the US in the 1970s, she could see the possibility that her children could start in the service industry as a dishwasher, and then years later be the chef and owner of a restaurant. Similarly, people needing a second chance out of hard times could once find work in this industry and create a better life for themselves and their families.
Sadly, that’s not the reality for most today. Far too many people work long hard hours, yet still live in poverty. We need wages that a person working full time can actually live on.
In my experience, paying above minimum wage and treating our employees well has been a recipe for success. We’re looking forward to opening two new restaurants next year, while our existing businesses continue to grow.
We need dedicated employees whose goals align with ours to provide real hospitality and make our restaurants the best they can be. Paying above the current minimum wage has helped us hire and retain people and deliver a great experience to our guests.
The low-wage, high-turnover business model is not sustainable. Training new staff is time-consuming and expensive. Once someone has learned the job, we want them to stay so we can build institutional knowledge and a strong culture within our restaurants.
When people are paid fairly and feel respected, they care more about the business and are better team players. They are more careful about food waste and they’re more efficient.
They look out for our best interests because we’ve created a culture of respect.
Raising the minimum wage raises everyone up. It puts more money in the hands of those who most need to spend it, and it will boost the economy. Workers who are paid a decent wage are a key customer base for local businesses.
I want workers to earn enough to not just live but thrive. I want people to be able to afford to live closer to work and spend less time, money and energy commuting back and forth. Raising the minimum wage will provide a stronger wage floor upon which people can build toward their dreams for things like home ownership or entrepreneurship.
It hurts us all when some businesses pay so little that their employees can’t make a living. People working full time shouldn’t have to depend on public assistance to cover basics like rent and food. Raising the minimum wage levels the playing field for businesses that are paying their fair share and are invested in their staff and their communities.
I understand that a substantial increase in the minimum wage takes adjustment, which is why I support the Raise the Wage Act’s gradual phase-in. This gives businesses time to ramp up and experience benefits such as lower turnover, increased consumer spending and happier customers.
Every day, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night, restaurants work to feed and nourish you. We create the spaces for you to celebrate in when you’re up, and to lift you up when you’re down. It’s hard work, long hours and everyone’s role is important to that effort.
Raising the minimum wage will lift up workers, lift up businesses, and lift up our economy. It’s good for our communities and it’s good for our country.
Howard Hanna is the owner of The Rieger and Ça Va restaurants in Kansas City, Mo. He is a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.