Last month I posted a video of Tom Douglas mentioning some of the risks a $15 minimum wage would pose to his businesses. I got the sense reading the comments that some people (1) distrust all business owners, even the ones who've gone out of their way to be progressive and equitable, (2) don't think a $6-an-hour raise for restaurant workers already making way more than $15-an-hour is any big thing, and (3) don't mind if we become a city of Cheesecake Factories. Well, I used to work at a Cheesecake Factory; it was only for a few months, and it was more than 10 years ago, but I will never fully recover. It's a business owned by Wall Street that already charges sky-high prices for mediocre food, to say nothing of the stupid crap its workers are forced to say and do and wear. It's a soulless, endlessly replicated chain restaurant owned by people who've never been to Seattle. A business like that, with tons and tons of outposts in cities and suburbs across America, has a lot more volume to work with, so they can raise prices a little bit if they need to adjust to new economic conditions, whereas the one-off restaurant next door to the Cheesecake Factory has to raise prices a whole lot more just to stay in the game. The commenters who scream "Just go out of business then, asshole! You pay slave wages!" are, in my opinion, misdirecting their anger. (And don't get me wrong: I have a lot of fucking anger about how financial rules are stacked against the poor. My mother works harder than anyone I know, already had her house taken away, and currently makes $12.50 an hour. Does she deserve a raise? Absofuckinglutely.)
But here's the thing: When I worked at the Cheesecake Factory, I made bank. Without a college degree, I walked with at least $120 in tips every shift, often more, and got minimum wage on top of that (something like $7 an hour at the time). A drastic reordering of how the lowest-wage workers in our society is a good idea and looong overdue, but I just don't see how it's long overdue for people who already earn as much as $50 an hour. According to a much more detailed description of Tom Douglas's position, written by Tom Douglas and posted on his website, that's the high end of what servers make in his restaurants. A couple other points stood out to me when I was reading his perspective:
• "The $15NOW movement was born in the fast-food industry model and not tipped dining."
• "Our numbers suggest that if $15NOW has its way without any consideration for tip enhanced wages, fine dining restaurant prices would immediately jump 20 percent… This also does not reflect price increases we are likely to receive from our farmers, dry goods vendors and beverage distributors. This price increase is hugely inflationary to the restaurant business and is irresponsible when considering business people who have long-term leases and investments based on prior economic models."
• "I would be lying to say that I’m not concerned with the outcome of this national experiment happening in the Seattle market. It is also not lost on me that our City Council and Mayor’s office have very little small business experience."
• "We have averaged a 5% profit over our tenure, 1% better than the national average for fine dining restaurants…yahoo! We treasure our co-workers and customers more than anything else."
• "In my opinion, $15NOW with no acknowledgement of total compensation is a hollow slogan meant for headlines and shout downs rather than thoughtful, meaningful conversation, and equitable solutions. It makes no sense for Seattle to have a carved out exemption when the IRS and the State of Washington both concur that tips are earned income."
There's a bunch more on his website. You ought to read his whole letter and make up your own mind.