KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Restaurants Struggle with Sustainability
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Restaurants Struggle with Sustainability

Call it the triple whammy. Restauranteurs in San Francisco have to pay their workers a higher minimum wage than the state minimum. If their restaurant has over 20 employees they have to pay for health care expenditures. And now, they have to pay for sick leave for all workers. Needless to say this is all costing them money, making many of them mad as hell and seeking relief.

Perhaps you saw the news yesterday, Burger King is being applauded by animal rights groups and customers. The company announced that it will start buying eggs and pork from suppliers that do not confine their animals in cages and crates. It will also favor suppliers of chickens that use more humane methods of stunning birds before slaughter, in particular a "controlled atmosphere stunning" rather than the standard electric shock currently used. Of course this will all cost money, but somehow the value seems to outweigh the costs.

You don't have to live on a farm to care about animal welfare. But surely anyone who eats in a restaurant should care about the welfare of its workers. I am not a restauranteur nor have I ever worked in a restaurant, but I really do care about the welfare of the people who work in them, both for their own well-being and mine. Can you imagine if we didn't give sick leave and health benefits to nurses? It would be an outrage, yet it's standard practice for restaurants, for people who make and serve us food.

Just as Burger King has chosen to lead the way in farm animal standards, San Francisco has the opportunity to be a leader in making life more sustainable for its workers. Restauranteurs can complain all they want, but owning and running a restaurant has always been an expensive proposition and they knew that when they got into it.

Bottom line? San Francisco is an expensive town. It costs more to live here and to do business here, but that's true for everyone. I used to pay $13 for a residential parking permit now I pay $60. That's the price I pay for being able to live in a city I love. And you know what? I would pay even more if I had to. I'm not moving due to the increasing costs of living here and I doubt most restaurants will either. While I appreciate reasonably priced food as much if not more than the next person, I appreciate workers being treated reasonably even more. My guess is that people will be willing to pay more when it comes to dining out, especially if they understand why.

We want to hear from you! Are you a diner? A restauranteur? A restaurant worker? Are you willing to pay more? Do you think it's an unfair burden for restaurants? If so, who should pay for these costs?

Interested in this topic?
Read another BAB post addressing issues regarding the restaurant industry:
Is The Public Ready For A Transparent Restaurant Industry?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's ridiculous that we expect restaurant workers to subsidize our collective desire for eating out. The price should reflect the cost, including the true price of labor with all the trimmings: medical insurance, sick pay etc. Increase the price and suck it up San Franciscans and guests, this is the price of being in a first world country and the price of justice. You cannot want all the benefits without the costs of eating out.

3/28/2007 9:07 AM

Anonymous Leslie Pave said...

Amy, I think you are very right. As a former restaurant worker and caterer, it is hard to watch the years go by working in a professional kitchen while paying to live in this city, paying out of pocket for health care, and hoping you don't get sick or injured because you won't get paid if you don't go to work.

That said, my impression is that very few of the "successful" restaurants in the Bay Area are profitable. I don't know how they will be able to stretch their overhead even more. I don't think that most restaurateurs want to ignore their workers health needs. I hope there is a solution where both the workers and the restaurants can thrive.

3/28/2007 10:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's fair to say the owner of the restaurant doesn't care to pay for their workers' welfare or benefits. Speaking for myself, I used to work in hi tech, and got everything paid for. Now I have my own restaurant because this is what I love. I'm proud to say a few people's living are depending on me. However it's true I can't pay for their welfare or medical. I can't even pay for myself. I have been working 7 days a week and over 15-18 hours a day. I am still loving what I'm doing. However I had just refinanced my home again the 3rd time, signing docs today again; just so that I can make my payroll at the end of this week.

To be able to support even just 4-5 workers is not easy. I just hope somehow things can meet in the middle. Otherwise if a restaurant got stretched too thin and couldn't make it, needless to say about welfare, the workers will be losing their job as the restaurant closed and won't be able to get even a pay check.

3/28/2007 6:06 PM


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