Tag: Wage Laws

The Bottom Line on the Impact of Minimum Wage Hikes on the Restaurant Industry

Minimum wages are rising across the country, with well over a dozen states, plus many cities increasing minimum wages over the past few years.  As those changes are implemented, restaurant owners are finding that they must make significant adjustments to how they run their businesses in order to stay in business.

 The Bay Area of California was one of the first regions to begin increasing minimum wages, and as of January 1, 2018, the minimum wage increased by 37 cents to $13.23 in Oakland, and in San Francisco it rose from $13.00 to $15.00 effective July 1, 2018.

One impact on the restaurant industry is the change from full service restaurants – with hosts and full waiter service – to counter service.  Some restaurants have actually seen such changes result in significant sales increases – by as much as 20% – after the change from full service to counter service.  And at the same time, being able to reduce menu prices due to the ability to cut staff due to the change to a counter service format.  The downside here is that there are fewer jobs available to restaurant workers with owners focused on a lean labor paradigm.  At some restaurants, cooks serve dual roles – both preparing food and delivering it to customers.  Customers are also finding themselves taking on new ‘responsibilities’ such as being able to text additional orders rather than going back in line it they want more food than they originally ordered at the counter.

Thus, the increase in minimum wage has resulted in more satisfied employees (albeit fewer) earning a better living, increased restaurant industry innovation, and restaurants becoming more accessible to the population as whole as a result of lower menu prices.

Seattle became the first major city in the country to pass a $15.00 minimum wage law in 2014.  Large restaurant groups and franchises were particularly concerned about the increase because employers with more than 501 workers were required to increase wages on a set schedule reaching $15.00 per hour this year.  As a result, large Seattle restaurant groups and chains were forced to look for ways to adjust and innovate.  Many felt that increasing menu prices was not an option because of concerns that such increases would result in lower revenue.  So these restaurants did away with discretionary tipping and, instead, implemented set service charges of fifteen or twenty percent.

To offset rising labor costs, some restaurants add a surcharge of three to five percent to customers’ checks.  In March of last year, the Wall Street Journal even ran an article entitled “New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge.”  Restaurant owners found that raising menu prices lead customers to choose less expensive items than they normally would, and that the surcharge helped mitigate the increased costs of doing business.

In addition to raising prices, in order to deal with increased wages in the restaurant industry, some businesses often cope with minimum wage increases by firing staff.  Earlier this year, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers announced it would eliminate busboy positions at 570 restaurant locations. Many single location restaurants have also had to eliminate busboys and other staff positions.  Others have not been able to adapt and have had to close their doors. Some have turned to technology to compensate for the loss of labor and to reduce expenses. Large chains such as Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Olive Garden have replaced some servers with table-side tablets for placing orders and paying bills. 

Technology has also helped other businesses expand.  For example, popular online service, GrubHub, has reduced the number of customers dining out, as consumers can enjoy a restaurant style meal without getting up off their couch.  

The takeaway for restaurants facing increasing minimum wages and labor costs?  Scrutinize your budget and personnel and determine how to satisfy ever-changing employee and customer demands, and be willing to change.

For further information regarding this topic, please contact:

Jonathan M. Weis at jweis@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100.

 

 

 

New Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance Applicable to Cook County Employers as of May 1, 2015

On May 1, 2015, employers in Cook County will be subject to the new Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance that imposes harsh penalties on employers who violate federal or state wage laws. The purpose of the Ordinance is to protect employees from wage theft and prohibits companies and individuals found to have violated wage-payment laws from obtaining Cook County procurement contracts, business licenses, or property tax incentives for a period of five years.

An employer will face penalties under the Ordinance if it has admitted guilt or liability, or has been adjudicated guilty or liable in any judicial or administrative proceeding, of committing a repeated or willful violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Act, the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the Illinois Employee Classification Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or any comparable state statute or regulation that governs the payment of wages.

The Ordinance applies not only to business entities, but to any “person”, including a “substantial owner” or an employer. A substantial owner is defined as any person who “owns or holds a 25 percent or more percentage of interest in any business entity seeking a county privilege, including those shareholders, general or limited partners, beneficiaries and principals; except where a business entity is an individual or sole proprietorship, substantial owner means that individual or sole proprietor.”

Penalties under the Ordinance include:

  1. Ineligibility for County Contracts:  The employer will be ineligible to enter into a contract with Cook County for a period of five years from the admission of guilt, date of conviction, entry of a plea, or finding in a judicial or administrative proceeding of a violation of a wage-payment law.
  2. Ineligibility for Property Tax Incentives: The employer will be ineligible to receive any property tax incentives for a period of five years from the admission of guilt, date of conviction, entry of a plea, or finding in a judicial or administrative proceeding of a violation of a wage-payment law.
  3. Ineligibility for a Cook County Business License: The employer will be ineligible to receive a Cook County business license for a period of five years from the admission of guilt, date of conviction, entry of a plea, or finding in a judicial or administrative proceeding of a violation of a wage-payment law.

Employers who are subject to the above listed penalties may request an exception to the applicable period of ineligibility by submitting a written request to the County. Such exceptions may be granted by the County if the County finds that the exception is in the best interest of the County.

Employers in Cook County should review their wage payment policies to ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable federal and state wage-payment laws.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance or your business’s wage payment policies, please contact:

Kristen E. O’Neill at:

koneill@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368-0100

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