Transcript of our testimony in Congress on the Raise the Wage Act, 2/13/19:
Thank you members of Congress for your work on the Raise the Wage Act and for giving us an opportunity to tell our stories.
My business partner and I opened L’Oca d’Oro, a full-service Italian restaurant in Austin, TX three years ago. In Austin, the sub-minimum wage is still $2.13/hr. It was never our intention to be known as much for our labor practices as for our meatballs, but, as former restaurant employees, my partner and I knew from the beginning that we did not want to be a part of the restaurant industry’s race to the bottom, where owners pay as little as they can for their food and for their staff. Instead, we decided that we would start all of our employees at a higher hourly rate than the Federal Minimum wage and include a 20% service charge on all checks that is distributed to the entire staff. This approach allows us to stand out in a crowded labor market; professionalize the jobs of traditionally tipped employees like servers, hosts and backwaiters; create a positive, team-oriented culture; and, as employers, we can determine how much our employees earn rather than leaving their income up to the whims of customer tips.
To make this work, we have had to become activists in a way we never imagined. We have had to educate ourselves, our employees and consumers about the exploitive history of tipping. With greater control of more of our business’ revenue, we are able to provide access to Direct Primary Care and a Medical Cost Sharing Community so our employees have health care benefits. We have partnered with a local domestic abuse non-profit to lead staff trainings to prevent workplace harassment. We worked closely with Austin’s City Council and other local businesses and nonprofits to craft a paid sick leave ordinance. With other local businesses, we are forming a trade association called Good Work Austin that will provide resources to other businesses that want to transition to One Fair Wage, provide health care or hire for diversity. We have also helped City Council write an incentive package for small businesses that are guaranteeing a living wage, providing benefits, or reaching other progressive employer standards.
Our customers are attracted to L’Oca d’Oro by how we run our business. Since they don’t have to rely on tips, our employees are inspired to stay with us instead of jumping to the next new hot spot, and they enthusiastically support our model to their guests. We pay One Fair Wage and we are thriving.
As things currently stand, we can only be competitive with other businesses that are spending a fraction of what we spend by being excellent, a standard that all restaurants should be held to.
The change in the law last year that allows restaurants to pool tips if they pay over the federal minimum wage was a tremendous step in the right direction. It makes it much easier to convince other operators that a new model of restaurant compensation is in their best interest. But, to create a truly level playing field, we need Washington to eliminate the tipped minimum wage once and for all.