An NYC restaurant owner raised staff wages to $25 an hour. She's had no trouble recruiting - but still doesn't think she pays employees enough.

Restaurant workers across the US are demanding better wages and working conditions. Damien Eagers/PA Images via Getty Images
Manhattan restaurant owner raises prices to pay $25 an hour starting wage for all employees.

Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy's owner, stated to Insider that she still doesn't believe we pay enough.

Cohen claims that she has not had a problem finding staff in restaurants.

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Manhattan restaurant owner believes that the $25 an-hour starting wage she charges her employees is still too low.

Amanda Cohen, the owner of Dirt Candy, a vegetarian-themed restaurant, increased her wages after realizing how many workers were struggling financially during lockdown.

Cohen stated that she thought she had paid her staff a fair wage but it was clear that she wasn't paying enough. Her restaurant was closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and she had to lay off all 30 of her employees.

Insider reported that she knew "none of them has enough savings to weather these." "I want my staff have more."

She decided to close the restaurant and raise wages after she reopened.

Chefs were paid $18 to $21 an hour, and front-of house staff between $23- $25. She said that their wages now start at $25 and are subject to increases based on length of service.

She said, "I don't think they pay enough."

Cohen stated that the restaurant industry had been plagued by poaching long before the pandemic and had "really transformed into a gig economy where these jobs in the kitchen started to feel very disposable," as if you could jump from one to another for higher wages.

Cohen stated that restaurant workers demanded better wages and working conditions during the pandemic. Restaurants were forced to cut hours, reduce services or close because of the departure of some workers.

Restaurants are not the only ones that have been affected by "The Great Resignation." Small businesses, including taxi-hailing apps, small stores, hotels, and delivery companies have struggled to find workers and retain staff.

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Cohen stated that Dirt Candy now employs around 25 people and provides paid time off as well as health insurance. These provisions are common in other industries but it was not the norm to treat employees as professionals in restaurants.

Since 2015, the restaurant has had a no-tipping policy.

Dirt Candy states on its website that "We don’t have to trick” you into paying 20% tip at the end to cover our labor costs.

Cohen claimed that some employees had left Dirt Candy to relocate to another town or industry during the pandemic, but she was able to quickly find replacements.

She said, "We haven't had a single problem finding staff."

Cohen stated that Cohen had to raise prices by 30% because of the wage increases.

She also simplified the restaurant's menu. It used to offer tasting menus with five or ten courses. Now, the restaurant only offers a single five-course menu. She said this has cut down on food costs and allowed her to afford to pay more staff.

Cohen stated, "We place the emphasis on staff first and everything second." Cohen stated, "I cannot succeed without my staff."

While some restaurants expressed concern that higher prices could result in fewer customers, Cohen stated that her menu changes have not discouraged diners. The restaurant seats 44 people and serves between 85 to 90 diners per night. This is roughly the same number as before the pandemic.

She said, "I believe for a pandemic we're doing just fine."

Are you a manager or owner of a restaurant struggling to hire staff? Are you a former employee in the hospitality industry who left because of poor pay, working conditions, or benefits? This reporter can be reached at gdean@insider.com

Expanded Coverage Module: what-is-the-labor-shortage-and-how-long-will-it-last

Business Insider has the original article.

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