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Restaurant industry basics are trickier than ever

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If your lifelong dream is to help lawyers and consultants get rich—private-plane, own-a-sports-team rich—then do we have good news for you. If banks were merciful, they’d deposit restaurants’ receipts directly in the mercenaries’ accounts so the business wouldn’t be reminded with every invoice of how it’s being bled by new complications.

You can’t fling a business card without hitting one of those fresh burdens. Consider, for instance, the new tech requirements of an industry that was once all about feeding people.

At our Restaurant Leadership Conference last month, there was a consensus that the right tech can steer consumers toward your restaurant. For instance, 40 percent of the public wants to order via app or website, Deloitte Consulting revealed during the event. But a relatively small percentage of the industry currently offers those options.  And many of them don’t make online ordering easy or reliable, chain execs lamented.

Similarly, Deloitte noted, potential customers are looking for the sort of personalized rewards they get from the tech-based loyalty programs in other service arenas. Yet, a number of speakers agreed, those programs are rarer in the business today than lawyers who work pro bono.

Restaurateurs already fill more roles than most Broadway plays boast, including marketer, employer, menu maker, coach, accountant, floor sweeper and active community member. How can they add “tech savant” to the resume? They can either amass the necessary knowledge, or rent it. We’re betting on the latter.

Additionally, staying on the right side of labor legislation and case law will likely be a challenge even for the professionals affiliated with a different sort of bar. If the new regulations are a challenge for lawyers, how are restaurateurs going to navigate the red tape?

Consider what multiunit operations in New York are facing. If they’re QSRs, they’ve already started climbing a ladder toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage, but the rungs vary by location. The legal minimum in New York City is $10.50 an hour, while the floor elsewhere is $9.75—unless, of course, employees qualify for the tip credit and can be paid $7.50.

But that situation is simple compared with the complications that begin for New York restaurateurs at the end of this year. On Dec. 31, the minimum wage rises to either $11 or $9.70, depending on where your restaurant is located and how many people it employs. Establishments in New York City with at least 10 names on the payroll will pay the higher amount, as will restaurants of all sizes in three neighboring counties. Businesses elsewhere get a $1.30-an-hour break.

Then yearly increases begin—three of them. If you’re in New York, the minimum hourly wage will rise by $2 a year. The annual hike is $1 in Nassau, Westchester and Suffolk counties, and 70 cents an hour everywhere else.

And did we mention the new family-leave mandate, where businesses will have to grant up to 12 weeks of leave for an extraordinary family development? Or new possibly precedent-setting lawsuits, like the one pending against Ruby Tuesday, where servers are seeking damages for being denied tips because they were required to do side work? Or the latest decision related to the National Labor Relations Board, where restaurant employees’ right to tell business-killing lies about their employers was reaffirmed?

No wonder there’s fear that certain types of consultants and lawyers will benefit in particular—the sorts that specialize in bankruptcy law.

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