Paying a living wage will change the hospitality industry

Interior of 2% Jazz coffee shop, showing workers serving customers
2% Jazz in the Victoria Public Market. Photo supplied.

Two Victoria restaurateurs are paving the way for change in the hospitality industry by offering their employees a living wage: Maryanne Carmack of Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop, La Pasta and Taco Stand, and Sam Jones of 2% Jazz Coffee.  

“I want the next generation of employees of entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry to have it better than I did,” says Jones. “Just like I would want that for my kids. And I don’t want it tomorrow, I want it today.”

The living wage is the hourly amount a family needs to cover basic expenses. The calculation is based on a two-parent family with two children – the most common family unit in BC – with each parent working full-time. The Living Wage for Greater Victoria is $19.39 an hour.  

“The pandemic has hit low wage workers the hardest,” says Carmack. Along with providing our workers a level of financial security, a living wage also benefits the local economy. It is one way to ensure vibrant citizens, strong families and healthy communities.” 

Jones says that pandemic was a catalyst for pooling resources within the sector. The pair were  part of a group of hospitality owners who founded the Bread & Butter Collective “out of the need to do something constructive instead of just kind of watching the world fall apart around us,” says Jones. “We all agree that the restaurant industry has been broken for decades.”

Bread & Butter provides resources and tools to hospitality based business owners in B.C. for improved levels of performance, peer accountability, learning & growth, political advocacy along with guidelines for operating businesses and managing lifestyles that are meaningful and lasting.

Jones and Carmack are the first in the collective to offer their employees the full living wage and will share their experience of making it work with other members of the collective, many of whom hope to follow suit. Businesses are all slightly different and so there are a huge variety of considerations — profit margins, expenses, etc. 

“Make sure that your business can afford it,” advises Jones. “If your business can’t afford to pay your employees [more], maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re in the wrong business, or the business isn’t sustainable. … I think we’re going into a future where we’re not gonna have a choice.”

Jones has always paid his employees a dollar or more above the minimum wage. But, he notes, that now we are in a situation where a lot of people don’t have to come back to work, or choose not to work somewhere where they don’t feel valued. Historically one of the biggest expenses business owners face is labour costs so when looking at the bottom line it made sense to many to pay people the least they could and work them hard. 

Recruiting for a barista job recently, Jones had 104 applicants. Members of Bread & Butter asked him to share his job ad. He was thrilled with that level of choice, a shift away from the position that many find themselves in, taking whatever they can get. Jones has always recruited carefully, asking after an employee’s interests outside of “work” and finding ways, where possible, for them to apply those skills and passions at 2% Jazz Coffee. 

A paycheck is one part of showing people they are valued, but not the only factor. People want to come to a workplace where they feel safe, comfortable and confident, says Jones.  

“The living wage model is a human model, not not just a way to pay people,” he adds. 

Certifying as a Living Wage Employer is a voluntary commitment employers make to invest in their communities and local economies. There are over 250 Living Wage Employers in B.C., with over 30,000 employees who don’t need to worry about how they will afford rent, food and other essentials for their family because they are guaranteed to earn a Living Wage. 

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