May 4, 2021 - News

Behind the restaurant industry’s drive to pay staff more

5church exterior

5church exterior

A movement to pay restaurant employees a “living wage” is building in Charlotte’s dining scene amid a dire staffing shortage.

Why it matters: A labor shortage is the latest hurdle for the industry after a year of hurdles due to the ongoing pandemic.

To draw hospitality professionals back, some restaurateurs like 5th Street Group’s Patrick Whalen have increased their minimum wage to $15+ an hour, CharlotteFive’s Laurie Larsh reports.

In a Twitter thread, Whalen explained the restaurant group’s new Tip The Kitchen initiative to eventually get all back-of-the-house employees (sous chefs, line cooks, etc.) up to a livable wage of $25.25.

How it works: At the end of a meal at 5Church, Sophia’s Lounge or the soon-to-reopen La Belle Helene, guests receive a bill with a tip line for both the service (front-of-house) and the back-of-house staff.

  • Guests can elect how much they’d like to give, and the restaurant ownership will fill in for anything less than 22% for servers.
  • Plus, Whalen and the ownership team will match up to $500 per day for back-of-house tips.

Zoom out: Other local restaurants are increasing pay and offering new benefits to slow the costly churn of turnover.

  • Sam Hart of Counter- pays his employees $20-$22 per hour and offers four weeks of PTO, according to C5.
  • FS Food Group hired two full-time recruiters and is considering a retention bonus for those who stick around for at least six months, Axios’ Katie Peralta Soloff reported last month.
dining room at supperland charlotte
Jeff Tonidandel says his restaurant group have about 20-30 open positions across all five restaurants, including a few at the newly opened Supperland. Photo: Ted Williams/Axios [Read more: 5 quick takeaways from my first visit to Supperland]

A number of restaurant owners like Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown of Haberdish also offer health insurance, which they say is a draw for applicants.

Still, Tonidandel tells me the group could hire about 20-30 across all five of their restaurants.

Hiring in the restaurant industry is much like the rapid-fire real estate market these days. “If you don’t get back to someone within minutes, you’ve lost them,” Tonidandel says.

  • The restaurant group’s minimum wage is currently $13, up from $12.37/hour pre-pandemic.
  • Tonidandel tells me he’s considering another increase once restaurants can open at 100% capacity again.

Between the lines: Labor shortages can spill over into guest experience. Restaurants that barely made it through the last year are now faced with a barrage of negative online comments from diners disappointed at spotty service.

  • Some restaurants have had to limit hours because of a lack of staff or to prevent burnout among a skeleton crew.

My thought bubble: Be kind. Practice patience. Tip well.

Looking for work? 23 food & beverage jobs in Charlotte right now

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled CharlotteFive reporter Laurie Larsh’s name.


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