Friday, April 17, 2009

Smaller Restaurants

There's been quite a bit of discussion about the living wage mandate and health care mandate that is law in the County of San Francisco. With the economics being what they are in the restaurant business, there are unintended consequences and creative solutions happening at the same time. You hear a lot about wait staff making larger salaries while the kitchen staff toil away at salaries close to 1/3 what a good wait person is making. This is definitely an unintended consequence of the law. I don't know how many places are pooling their tips or having the wait staff tip the kitchen staff to make compensation more equitable, but that seems like a fairly democratic solution. Wait Staff and Kitchen Staff are all members of one team and proceeds should be fairly distributed. In the never underestimate people's creativity in trying to get around a mandate department, you have restaurants popping up all over the place that employ very few people thus allowing the business to avoid having to provide health care and incurring the accompanying expenses. There is good and bad in this. The good is that it is fostering more personal, creative and intimate dining experiences and also encouraging a more personal interaction between chef and customer. The bad is that you again have people working very hard without health care benefits.
How does one deal with this as a customer and as someone who wants to do the right thing and patronize establishments who are also trying to be good 'business citizens' in the community? It's certainly an individual choice, but I think it's also important to think about where your restaurant/entertainment dollar goes. In reading my previous post, one knows my antipathy towards Chains, but I would not be surprised if, at some level, Chains provide at least access to heath care. It might not be affordable, but they are providing access to it. We aren't even considering other aspects of care, i.e. dental and vision plans.
My absolute favorite restaurant in the city is one of these small establishments. It's successful and doing well even in these tough economic times. and I hear repeatedly about other small places opening up in various areas of San Francisco and Oakland. In the end, I think I can state my position as this: Health Care, Dental and Vision Care are essential to every citizen in the country and they are a local, state and national problem that needs to be solved at the most fundamental level. Until the playing field is leveled, no amount of mandating by certain cities or counties is doing to change the marketplace. The constituencies at play in this problem are far more powerful than the Restaurant Owners. You are talking about Doctors, Hospitals and Insurance Companies as well as Medical Suppliers, the folks who make the medicines and materials used in the industry. All these interests are powerful, rich and intent on protecting their financial interests. How to navigate this is being worked out by some very smart people. I do not think that short of a mandate from the Federal Government, anything meaningful will happen. What will remain constant during this time is that people will find ways to produce the product they want and at a price that they can sell it for and make a profit. We as customers will continue to find and patronize these creative people and support their work. That's the best we can do.


I'll be knee deep in the NHL playoffs in the next few weeks as my beloved Sharks are a no. 1 seed in the Western Conference. With any luck I'll be engaged for the next 8 weeks which means they'll be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I want to wish you all a great weekend. I'll be immersed in baseball this weekend as my son Elliott has a big game tomorrow and my son Miles has a big game in his adult league on Sunday.


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