Though the Lowbrow has been in business for six and a half years, and things are going very well for the Nicollet Avenue “burgers, beer, and brunch” restaurant, owner Heather Bray says she is “terrified.”
“If this minimum wage happens without a tip credit, I’m afraid it will be the beginning of the end,” she says emphatically.
At issue is the city of Minneapolis’ plan for phasing in a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Some restaurant owners and servers are campaigning for a tip credit, whereby tips would count toward the $15 hourly wage. Otherwise, they say, owners will phase out tipping altogether and raise menu prices to come up with the money to cover the new minimum wage.
So a coalition of restaurateurs and servers has hired a professional lobbyist to help create a campaign called “Pathway to $15.” The coalition argues that restaurants and bars compensate their employees in a unique way, and that way should be considered as the city forges ahead with the wage increase. So far, Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council have indicated that a tip credit will probably not be considered. Hodges has even said that a tip credit is detrimental to women, who make up a majority of service industry staff in restaurants nationwide.
Certain restaurants, including Common Roots and Butter, have pre-emptively switched to a $15 minimum wage, with a no-tipping model. But others aren’t having it, and they’re reaching out to customers for support.
Bray says that she doesn’t think that news outlets have done an adequate job of explaining the plight of restaurants to the general public. As a result, she’s decided to educate her customer base by including “Pathway to $15” flyers in the black books presented with their bill. She says she’s received a lot of positive feedback, as well as some negative, but that overall, it doesn’t seem as though the dining public is adequately informed about the issue.
Bray points out that “15 Now” (the campaign demanding a $15 minimum wage hike for all employees) has a message that's easy to understand and digest, but the restaurant industry position is more nuanced and takes a longer time to articulate.
“It takes four or five minutes [to explain it], but when we do, people are always on board with [our position],” she says. The problem is, she doesn’t have that kind of time to explain to hundreds of customers a day.
Marcus Dorn owns Darby’s, a downtown pub in close proximity to the Twins stadium serving straightforward American bar food and lots of beer. He’s chosen to use the flyers at his establishment too, and according to him, his customer base is similarly unaware of the issue.
“People come up and ask about it and they’re like, ‘Wow, we didn’t know this is happening,'" says Dorn. He also says that if the hike moves forward, he’ll be forced to raise prices significantly, or put a surcharge on the bill, and neither option seems popular with customers. If those customers seem interested in further action, he’s encouraging them to call or email Jacob Frey, the City Council person for the Third Ward, where Darby’s is situated.
Anchor Fish & Chips is also using the flyers but owners were not immediately available for comment.
According to Peter Glessing, the lobbyist who is working for the Pathway to $15 campaign, about 20 local restaurants are currently using the flyers, but he says he is not at liberty to release that list.