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The future of the restaurant industry? Wilde Roast boosts wages, benefits

Christmas came early for staff at Wilde Roast Cafe.

Christmas came early for staff at Wilde Roast Cafe.

Now that cold and flu season is here, news outlets will once again run the obligatory stories about employees who go to work when they’re sick, even though they have sick leave. There are many reasons for not taking time off to convalesce, ranging from not wanting to look weak to wanting to save that PTO for vacation instead of bed rest. But for the vast majority of restaurant workers, taking time off when they’re sick means a smaller paycheck, since they don’t get paid if they don’t work. So the folks who are preparing and serving your food tough it out and go to work coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. Ugh.

Paid sick and safe leave was one of the issues addressed in the Working Families Agenda proposed by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in October and then shelved after much debate and gnashing of teeth. With no laws mandating sick time, whether to offer it to employees is up to restaurant owners. There are currently about two dozen restaurants in the Twin Cities that do. Diners and restaurant staff alike will be happy to know that Wilde Roast Café in northeast Minneapolis is joining the ranks of businesses offering this benefit to their employees. Owners Dean Schlaak and Thomas DeGree say that ensuring that staff members have time to recover from an illness and not have to worry about paying the bills just seems like the right thing to do.

Starting this month, the restaurant will also be phasing in livable wage increases for all non-tipped employees: $14 an hour for hosts and dishwashers and $15 for all cooks. Wilde Roast will mark 12 years in business this March and Schlaak and DeGree say their staff is the restaurant’s most valuable asset. Turnover rates are notoriously high in the restaurant game, and competition for staff can be fierce. A number of high profile restaurant owners have expressed frustration over trying to hire and keep talented staff. Better wages and benefits may become a deciding factor in the competition for experienced, loyal employees.