Column: Twin Cities eateries lead the pack in fight for livable wage

While many local restaurants remain anxious about the potential wage hike, several have made a livable wage possible.

Chance Wellnitz

Last week, I wrote a column asking the University to take a stand in the push for a livable wage, since many of its students and employees make below the proposed $15 per hour. This has yet to happen. However, proactive change is starting to take hold elsewhere in the Twin Cities.

City Pages reported that Butter Bakery and Common Roots Cafe have both eliminated tipping and upped their employees’ pay to at least $15 hourly, including paid time off and a retirement contribution match.

Common Roots needed to increase their menu prices roughly 15 percent to accommodate the change, a caveat cited by many critics of the proposed minimum wage increase. However, owner Danny Schwartzman told City Pages that he “hasn’t received any negative face-to-face feedback.”

These restaurants join the ranks of establishments like Byte and the Seward Co-op Creamery cafe, which opened with employees’ livable wages already built into their business models, and both establishments have been well-received by customers and staff.

This is the kind of proactive approach that will greatly benefit local businesses as Minneapolis continues the debate for a higher city-wide minimum wage. Pushback is an important component of the conversation, but building better and more sustainable business models now rather than when it’s forced upon employers would guarantee a smoother transition.

When the Daily ran a story in late March detailing local businesses’ anxieties regarding the potential wage increase, Dinkytown Business Alliance president Randal Gast acknowledged that while he’d like to see the change phased in over a few years, he thinks “wage increases are inevitable over time.”

Furthermore, the restaurant industry itself is changing, with fast-casual concepts becoming increasingly popular and many fast food restaurants experimenting with self-ordering kiosks. So, in a way, critics are correct: certain restaurant service jobs may be going away soon. However, to place the blame solely on people’s push for a higher minimum wage is grossly disingenuous.

Some local restaurants say that an increased minimum wage would force them into a system of no tipping and higher prices like Common Roots Cafe and Butter Bakery. This in turn would cut the pay of some servers who are able to make over $15 per hour in tips.

However, this argument seems shortsighted and driven more by fear than by logic. If every restaurant in the city had to proportionally increase its menu prices to account for the higher minimum wage, then things would remain largely the same. Restaurants would remain competitively priced with one another, and a 15 percent increase in prices wouldn’t drive people to leave the city to find a place to eat. Jobs wouldn’t have to be cut, and servers would still be able to receive tips.

The food service industry is the largest employer of near-minimum wage workers, so its fears are understandable. But let’s not let our anxieties steer us away from the greater good, and let’s support the businesses who are leading the pack.