Potential of a minimum wage hike doesn’t concern Park City restaurateurs
With Bernie Sanders’s once-fledgling campaign proving its staying power and rallying young progressives to fight against perceived corporate greed, calls to raise the federal minimum wage are gaining momentum.
Perhaps the biggest recent victories for those who support such a raise came this week, as the governors of California and New York signed into law bills that will gradually increase the minimum wage in those states to $15 an hour by 2022. While improbable that Utah legislators would follow suit with a similar bump to Utah’s mandated $7.25 an hour, the possibility that a federal wage hike could come in the future looms.
The effect such a measure would have in Park City remains unclear, but many in the restaurant industry, which is one of the largest employers in the area, aren’t batting an eye. They say most restaurant employees in town are already making well above $7.25 an hour, and those who work on tips typically take home more than the $15 an hour supporters of a minimum wage increase are calling for.
Hans Fuegi, owner of Grub Steak Restaurant and a longtime leader in the Park City restaurant industry, said that, by the time California and New York’s wages hit $15 an hour in 2022, pay for all restaurant workers here, including positions like dishwashers, will likely come close to or eclipse that.
"Our wages here in Park City are typically higher than a lot of areas in the rest of the state of Utah," he said. "When we hear about minimum wages at $15 in California and New York being phased in over the next several years, I assume our wages will increase significantly by that time anyhow. There isn’t anybody that I know of at this point that can hire people at $7.25 an hour — that’s just not a reality in Park City anymore and it never really was."
Servers and wait staff who make most of their money on tips are particularly well-positioned in Park City. Though Utah law only mandates that restaurants pay them at least $2.13 an hour, most make well above $15 an hour after tips (according to the law, restaurants must make up the difference if tips don’t meet the minimum wage). While they doubtless earn more on tips during the winter, as visitors flood the town’s eateries, multiple restaurant owners say it’s rare for a server to make less than the minimum wage even during the shoulder seasons.
"They’re way in excess (of $15 an hour), certainly in the season," Feugi said. "Of course there are offseasons to take into consideration, but most wait staff would not take a job if they were only paid $15 an hour. I don’t recall having to pay a wait staff minimum wage because they don’t get enough tip income in any kind of a pay period."
Debbie Axtell, owner of Café Terigo on Main Street, said a raise to the minimum wage would not affect the restaurant’s servers and would have only a small impact on any of her wait staff.
"Maybe our bussers would need a dollar or two more an hour, but that’s it," Axtell said.
Some restaurants already guarantee wages above the state minimum for their servers. Alyssa Marsh, general manager of 501 on Main, which remains open throughout the shoulder season, said servers there are promised at least $15 an hour if their tips don’t add up to that much in a given pay period during the slow season.
"We try to make sure that, if we get a good server we keep them," she said. "We are busy in the summer, so we don’t want to lose anybody in the shoulder season."
While most servers would not get bigger paychecks after a minimum wage bump, the kitchen staff in many restaurants might. But restaurant owners said that even they are making well more than $7.25 an hour and could see their wages naturally increase to around $15 an hour in coming years as the cost of living rises in Park City.
"I don’t think you can hire a dishwasher or prep cook even to start out with at much less than $10 an hour in Park City," Fuegi said. "Most of the cooks we employ are around the $11 or $12 an hour to start out with, and then if they prove themselves, they go up from there."
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