By Bri Buckley

Michael Burch knows the restaurant industry is continually changing and expanding. While American restaurants added nearly 15,000 jobs in August, the head chef at Masthead Brewing Co. says he is having trouble keeping his downtown Cleveland location fully staffed.

“I just hired five people, and all of them are off the schedule now,” he said. “And I just hired them two weeks ago.”

He’s one of many in the restaurant industry struggling with staffing shortages post-pandemic. In an effort to solve the problem, the City of Cleveland is joining fair wage advocacy groups to offer multiple $5,000 grants to small-business restaurants if they pay all staff at least $15 an hour, and the Raise the Wage ballot committee is hoping to put an issue on the November 2024 ballot to boost the state minimum wage for tipped employees from $5.05 an hour to $15.

More is less

“15 wouldn’t cut it,” Masthead bartender Christina Boris told 3News.

According to Boris, it would actually be a huge pay cut, with customers less likely to tip if they know employees are being paid a higher wage.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I feel like we’re seeing a lot of resistance to tipping already.”

She was talking about the option to tip popping up at more and more places such as coffee shops and carry out counters. Burch said it wouldn’t really help his kitchen, either.

“We start out for line cooks down here with experience at $16-$17, depending on their experience, and I still get the same kind of problems,” Burch said.

Survey says

At Saucy Brew Works in Ohio City, CEO Brent Zimmerman said a wage increase would hit the service industry hard.

“I think what you’re going to see is business owners would react to this by either cutting benefits insurance, etcetera, cutting actual people that work here, or raising prices to the consumer.”

The Ohio Restaurant Association surveyed its members this summer and found 81% do not support a $15-an-hour wage, and 93% are against eliminating the tipped wage. Nearly all report that finding and keeping staff along with the increasing cost of goods are the hardest hurdles.

“We already are working on such thin margins that a hit like this would be just devastating to the industry,” Zimmerman said, “and I think we’ll see a ton of closures because of it.”

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