Mario Batali is not entirely supportive of raising the minimum wage. At Recode’s Code Commerce event this week, he said the measure, now being championed by working class advocates around the country, “is a great idea” but that “it’s not the fastest way of advancing a higher quality of life.”
He said that because restaurant profits are so small, paying workers more would cause these restaurants to close or turn to robotic service, citing Eatsa’s automated quinoa dispensary system as an example. When asked to elaborate by Buzzfeed News, Batali explained, “Everyone champions all these great things and these social movements. It’s an odd thing that minimum wage as effective as it is advancing the lives of a lot of people, it’s not the fastest way of advancing a higher quality of life.”
He said he has friends in San Francisco, where the minimum wage was raised to $15, who were forced to close restaurants as his profit margins disappeared. He did not offer more than anecdotal evidence, and he did not elaborate on what would be a faster method for improving lives.
“It’s a very difficult thing for restaurateurs,” he said. “Eventually all these things will be settled.”
Back in 2012, Batali settled a lawsuit brought by his employees claiming his company skimmed money from their tips for over $5 million. This year, he claimed employees at his Babbo and Del Posto restaurants can for four or five days a week and still make more than $130,000 a year.
Restaurant servers in the U.S. make $11.73 per hour on average for mean annual wages of $24,410, according to the Bureau or Labor Statistics. Cooks make $12.23 per hour on average for $25,430 a year. If there’s a more efficient way to improve their quality of life than raising minimum wage, they would surely be all ears.
In the past, celebrity chefs like José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern have spoken in support of raising minimum wage. In 2014, Zimmern wrote an op-ed challenging, “Wanna make a difference for women in America? Raise the minimum wage.” Last year, Andrés said, “We have employees that, at the end of the day, they have to go on food stamps to pay their bills… I know I’m going to make less money, but I hope that one day when I’m in my bed before going to my next chapter in life, I will remember that at least we tried.”
Obviously, the issue is multi-faceted. But the more options for increasing the quality of living for minimum wage earners, the better.