It was in a room at Wood-n-Tap in Newington recently, with more than 60 restaurant owners, managers and investors. Yet the event had minimal food and there was an absence of a waitstaff and menus.
The group represented some of the largest and finest eating and drinking establishments in Connecticut. The agenda presented was a future reality that all believed were major concerns to their industry and individual livelihood.
The Connecticut Restaurant Association and its members continue to gear for a battle with state legislators over proposed laws that could drastically change the industry. There are 8,200 food and beverage establishments in 169 communities, with Southington among the most noticeable, with 107 currently and three more coming this summer.
Speaker after speaker expressed concerns about the minimum wage proposal that the association says will result in huge expenses for owners. “At $15 an hour, this will force us to adjust employee hours and could hurt the patrons with old-fashioned service they’ve become accustomed with,” stated an owner of a shoreline restaurant. One Southington owner who employs over 100 high school and college students confirmed it would cost an additional $300,000 or more if the wage increase is voted into law.
Central Connecticut has an abundance of quaint restaurants, primarily in the cities and on the shoreline. There are hundreds that aren’t quaint but just darn good.
Other concerns include a bill that would require employers to provide employees with 72 hours’ notice if their work schedule is to be changed.
Scott Dolch, executive director, told the members that the association is actively reaching out to legislators from both parties. Tim Adams, who operates the highly successful J. Timothy’s in Plainville and is a board member, said, “Our industry has provided opportunities for so long that I’m concerned we won’t be able to continue if the legislators have their way.”
The CRA doesn’t claim absolute membership by all places in the state but believes they all will find it extremely difficult administrating the wage law and other mandates that could be put into law.
Members agreed that mandating new pay levels for bartenders and servers, currently tied into the present minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, would mandate wage increases for the highest earning employees in a restaurant.
The public, owners say, will feel the impact of the new laws. The CRA believes the wage increase will cause decreasing employee hours, hiring fewer employees, increasing prices and even laying off employees.
A Milldale restaurant owner, who declined to be identified, said restrictions on wages, are probably the “last straw” for many owners who are not part of a restaurant chain. “Many are not financially strong enough to absorb employee wage increases,” he added.
For the sake of comfortable dining and good food and drink, let’s hope legislators meet and confer with owners and digest the behind-the-scenes details of operating a restaurant.