By Elizabeth Myllenbeck
It is an understatement to say that the novel coronavirus has been devastating to the hospitality industry. Small business owners are reeling as they attempt to figure out how to operate, how to handle a slim-to-none profit margin and how to keep customers and employees with them. Creativity and community support are key.
As a small business owner, I love my employees. I want the best for them. If I could pay my employees what they are truly worth, I’d give them all $25 an hour or more. Sadly, with profit margins classically hovering at 15 percent, there is not much wiggle room for those kinds of wages.
The reality of minimum wages is an ugly part of the business. In Virginia, the minimum wage for restaurant workers who receive tips is $2.30 per hour. So, we’re essentially able to retain employees based on their ability to generate tips. The tips a server makes also support the hosts, kitchen workers, dishwashers and other back of house staff. It’s a relationship that keeps the whole restaurant churning.
So what can you do about the plight of minimum wage restaurant workers while restaurants are closed to in-person dining?
Unfortunately, most delivery services center around ensuring that their drivers get a tip, and the restaurants themselves are left out of that equation. Delivery services also often take between 25 and 30 percent of the restaurant sales placed through their services for themselves.
The best thing that most local restaurants can do is to encourage guests to use curbside and pick-up services. Consider getting some fresh air and driving or walking to a restaurant to pick up your food – and wearing a mask, of course.
Help keep your local restaurants going by tipping your server. While they can’t give you the full dining experience they’d like to, they are still working to answer phones, input orders and ensure your meal is as perfect as possible.
Some restaurants will ask if you’d like to add a tip when you complete a transaction online or by phone. If they do not, don’t be hesitant to ask how you can tip. Even the restaurants that don’t ask are likely still hoping that customers remember to tip. If you can do the customary 20 percent, that is fantastic, but any amount will do. Tipping even a few bucks can make all the difference to the entire business.
Please support your local restaurants, get some curbside deliciousness and tip to your heart’s content. The restaurants will remember all that you are doing to help us get through these tough times. We trust that we will all see you soon – happy, healthy and safe.
The writer is CEO and owner of Sonoma Cellar.