There’s good news across the country, as more states are raising their base minimum wages, recognizing that a wage that an employee can’t live on is of no benefit to the employee nor to anyone who wishes to sell something that requires disposable income. Unfortunately, not every restaurant is taking the change well.
Welcome to the age of the “minimum wage” fee.
Oasis Cafe in Stillwater, Minn., has decided to take their unhappiness with the change in pay for their staff straight to the customers, showing them in no uncertain terms that they are “forced” to charge them more now that they have increased their workers’ pay. Dubbing it a “minimum wage fee,” the restaurant has added a small service charge of $.35 on to each ticket, and they want to be sure you know that it’s the fault of those demanding a closer to living wage.
One Minnesota pundit calls the restaurant’s gambit “pettiness.” “[W]e have to wonder how many others will reflect, as we did, that thirty-five cents split between two diners at breakfast is too great a burden in the effort to make work pay,” writes Sally Jo Sorensen. Other locals are just as annoyed. “Wow! You couldn’t just increase your prices by 35 cents for two meals? Don’t you wonder how that makes your employees feel, making them look like the bad guys to their customers,” writes one person on a Facebook page showing a receipt with the “fee” added on. “Shame on you. (For the record, I took this photo off a friend’s FB page. I wasn’t a customer there, nor will I ever be now.)”
Oasis, meanwhile, doesn’t understand how their stunt backfired. “It certainly was not our intention to put our servers in a bad spot. We’re just trying to figure out how to offset what is a very real cost. Dividing a projection of how much our labor cost will increase by a projection of how many orders we’ll process seemed like a reasonable and transparent way to cover our cost increase. And while I think your “shame on you” comment was a little harsh…we appreciate and will try to use your input to get better…,” they responded. ”With regards to your previous comment about thumbing my nose at the law change…you’re right….part of my thinking was to shine a light on this matter…which I truly believe is in the best interest of both my business and employees!”
Oasis isn’t the only Minnesota restaurant putting employees in a hard spot over the minimum wage increase. A number of restaurants under two different holding company umbrellas are passing the buck — or taking it away — by making servers pay for credit card fees from translations as a way to blunt the restaurant’s own costs. These nickle and dime approaches to punishing workers who were hoping to earn a little more, and making the customer a part of the effort, is alarming some local workers’ rights groups. “We believe that the industry is over reacting,” Wade Luneberg, secretary/treasurer of MN State Council of UNITE HERE Unions, told the Star Tribune. “Putting [minimum wage] fees on tickets and passing the cost on to consumers directly is strange at best, and creates an ‘us against them’ mentality while ordering dinner.”
It could also be a matter of pennywise, pound foolish. Is the massive bad press that these restaurants are receiving worth the symbolic victory that comes from being able to state in a clear manner that the increase on the meal was brought to the customer not by the business owner, but because of a generous (or simply just) legislature? Or do the owners believe that they can rally their customers into petitioning the lawmakers to take back the increase?
It’s a gamble, and one that you would think restaurants that are posing to be so on the edge of fiscal disaster that they must pass a wage hike on to every customer or server wouldn’t want to undertake. Sort of makes you think the whole “fee” thing must be a ploy after all.
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