During a time when many restaurants (mainly those owned by restauranteur Danny Meyer) are moving towards eliminating tipping, Mario Batali isn’t afraid to admit he’s not sure that system is what’s best for the industry.
In an interview with LinkedIn’s Daniel Roth, the chef who owns nearly 30 restaurants revealed that his company is currently paying waiters $12 an hour on top of their tips, resulting in a hefty salary—and one that will only go up after minimum wage reaches $15 in New York City by 2018.
“It makes a lot of sense to equitably distribute all of the restaurant’s resources to all of the staff members,” he says, “but keep in mind at a restaurant like Babbo or Del Posto, waiters who can work four days or five days a week can make $140,000 or $130,000.”
“There is no cook who will make that,” he continued. “And to redistribute that right now, in the middle of a time when the minimum wage is gonna go to $15, which means the waiters are all gonna make $15 even if they’re tipped, is a hard thing for us to figure out.”
Batali says he’s worried the way they are currently functioning is not sustainable for many restaurants. “It’s basically a blinking game. Everyone’s looking at everybody. Waiting for some really smart person to come up with the answer,” he says. “But we have not figured it out so we are, at this point, paying waiters that we used to pay $5 an hour, $12 an hour. And we’re still holding the ground and allowing the tips to be distributed as it is because we just can’t figure out how to take that away.”
He also predicted that in two years time, “15 to 20 percent of the restaurants” in New York City will close because of increased costs.
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But if that $140,000 figure still has you convinced to get into the restaurant business, Batali says the key to success is rather simple. “I would always suggest to anybody, if you can find something you love to do you’re never at work,” he said. “My kids look at me and they see I’m happy all the time. Like stupid happy. And they’re looking at me like, ‘Dad, maybe I should get a job like yours.'”