Dec 11, 2023 - Business

Denver restaurant workers' wage growth is slowing

Data: Square; Note: Earnings include base wages, tips and overtime; Chart: Axios Visuals

Denver restaurant workers' wage growth has slipped considerably compared to pre-pandemic levels, a new report finds.

Why it matters: It's a sign that restaurants are no longer as desperate for workers as they were late in the pandemic, and a reflection of inflation's impact on restaurants and consumers alike.

By the numbers: Year-over-year wage growth for restaurant workers in the Denver metro area fell to 5.3% in October, from 7.3% in September 2023. Both are down from a peak of 15.7% in April 2019.

  • The data comes from Square's new third-quarter restaurant industry report and includes base wages, tips and overtime.

The big picture: Nationally, restaurant worker earnings have also declined significantly since the pandemic.

  • Although wages grew 4.9% year-over-year nationwide this past October, that's still a steep drop from peak growth of 10.5% in December 2021, when the average base wage was $12.60 and average hourly earnings totaled $15.85.

State of play: Restaurant workers around Denver have long struggled to keep pace with the region's high cost of living. The pandemic fueled a worker shortage in the industry as restaurants scrambled to fill positions.

Between the lines: The wage drop comes despite city and state efforts to increase the minimum wage.

  • Denver leaders voted in 2019 to raise the city's minimum wage. Next year, it will increase by $1 to $18.29, while wages for tipped food and beverage workers will rise to $15.27.
  • As of 2024, the statewide minimum wage is also set to increase — from $13.65 to $14.42 — and from $10.63 to $11.40 for tipped employees.
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