Restaurant execs on $15 wage: Ride the wave

darren tristano technomic rlc

Enactment of a $15 minimum wage in California and New York is the start of a wave that will soon reach restaurateurs everywhere, leaving operators no choice but to find ways of coping, speakers warned at the Restaurant Leadership Conference.

“Get ready, because it’s coming,” former Starbucks president Howard Behar said from the stage. “That horse is out of the barn. You might as well start thinking [about] how to start dealing with it. You might even want to start getting ahead of it.”

A similar assessment was offered by Darren Tristano, the president of Technomic. “Our point of view—not very different from how we looked at menu labeling—is to be proactive,” he said in the conference’s opening session. “If you can’t beat it, sort of go with it.”

He advised operators to adopt the mindset, “We expect a lot more. We are willing to pay more.”

Behar predicted that the strongest impact of a $15 wage would be on scheduling. Restaurateurs will try to shave off as many $15 labor hours as they can by scheduling more precisely, which could mean fewer and tighter shifts for employees.

Carin Stutz, the president of McAlister’s Deli, agreed. She recounted a conversation with a franchisee who was concerned about costs rising on a number of fronts for his operations.

“He said to me, ‘With all of these fees, the employees in the restaurants are going to be the ones who are really going to get squeezed—fewer hours, fewer shifts, tighter hours,’” she recounted.

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