SECOND LOOK: Food, beverage industry may face drastic changes

Published on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 19:52
Written by Art Secondo

More than 60 restaurant owners, managers and investors recently met in a room at Wood-n-Tap in Newington.

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. Southington has 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 from 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 shoreline. There are hundreds which aren’t quaint but just very good.

Their concerns include one that has not be publicized. Two bills in the legislature would require employers to provide employees with 72 hours of notice if their work schedule would be changed. Another bill that would be administered by the Labor Department would allow employees to take 12 weeks a year off for various reasons with 100 percent reimbursement at a maximum of $1,000 per week.

Scott Dolch, the association’s 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 proclaim absolute membership from all places in the state, but believes all of the places will find it extremely difficult to administer the wage law and other implications that could be put into law.

Members agreed that mandating new pay levels on bartender and server wages, 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 said, will feel the impact of new laws.

The CRA believes the wage increase will cause decreased employee hours, hiring fewer employees, increasing prices and even laying off employees.

A Milldale restaurant owner who declined to be identified, said restrictions on the industry with wages, is 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 be informed of the behind-the-scenes details of operating a restaurant.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 19:52. Updated: Wednesday, 17 April 2019 19:54.