The passive-aggressive sign about how hard it is to be a business expected to treat workers with basic decency is an increasingly common genre, or at least one getting a new audience thanks to social media. A Sizzler in Murrieta, California, has dived in with an entry that’s drawn well over a thousand comments on Reddit.
“SURCHARGE: In support of the California Minimum Wage increase, a 3.5% surcharge will be added to your bill to help support living wages for our dedicated staff,” the sign reads. “Thank you for your continued support of our family owned franchise. It is always our pleasure to serve you.”
This is not what support of the California minimum wage increase or support of living wages for your dedicated staff looks like, my friends. Let us count the ways.
First off, California’s minimum wage last increased on Jan. 1, 2022. It will increase again on Jan. 1, 2023, more than two months from now, when it will go up to $15.50 for all businesses, an increase from $14 for employers with 25 employees or less and from $15 for employers with 26 employees or more. To be sure, that’s a significant increase for smaller employers—if they were only paying minimum wage to begin with. An employer that was paying more than the rock bottom legally allowed wouldn’t be facing a big increase. (California’s minimum wage has long applied to tipped workers, rather than a subminimum wage as in the federal minimum wage and those of many states, so that’s not a factor in the increase.)
Second, it’s not actually required to explain why prices are going up by a whopping 3.5%. The big reasons to do that are 1) you’re too cheap to print new menus with new prices or 2) you want to get people mad at a minimum wage increase. Prices go up occasionally. People know this. In this case, if you spent $100 on a meal (which would be a lot at Sizzler), you’d be paying an extra $3.50. You’d pay an extra $1.40 on a $40 check. These are not big increases, but if you take pains to separate them out as their own line on the check and point a finger at the minimum wage as the reason, it’s a statement. A statement of hostility to having to pay a minimum wage that’s starting to look like something livable, although since $15.50 adds up to $32,240 for a year of full-time work, we are not talking about anything lavish here.
Third, about that “family owned franchise” thing? The Murrieta Sizzler appears to be owned by BMW Management, which is family owned, but not in the mom-and-pop way that sign asks readers to imagine. BMW (named for the initials of its owners) had 23 Sizzlers as of 2017, along with a Richie’s Diner and joint ventures with Texas Roadhouse. The M in BMW is for Sally and Gary Myers. The W is for Sally’s father, Jack Williams, who already had a long history as a Sizzler franchise owner. Sally and Gary’s son Bryce has his own real estate company … which does the real estate for his parents’ business. According to FranchiseHelp.com, Sizzler “Franchisees are expected to have a net worth that exceeds $3 million, and at least $750,000 available in liquid assets.” The family that owns this Sizzler, in other words, sounds like it’s doing fine, and you have to wonder what their cut would look like as a percent of a typical check at their restaurants.
Still, while this Sizzler’s sign is a jerk move, it’s not the worst from a restaurant owner in the last few years. Check this one out:
Note there that the starting pay of $16/hour is actually $13 plus benefits. Also, for non-tipped employees at small businesses in New Jersey, $13 is not all that far above the 2022 state minimum wage of $11.90 an hour. At larger businesses, $13 is the minimum wage. (It’s $5.13 per hour, before tips, for tipped workers.)
Or take this 2021 sign from a V Pizza franchise owner:
Restaurant owners and managers whining that workers expected to be paid decently were a major theme in the first half of 2021, with one Las Vegas restaurant executive complaining of job applicants, “‘How much do you pay?’ that’s one of the first questions out of their mouth.” It seems like having to pay their workers remains a keen source of resentment for restaurant owners.
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