Since El Gaucho hired our first employee 20 years ago, our goal has always been to take great care of people: our guests, our staff and our communities. Today, our company has grown to include five restaurants and an Inn with an incredible team of 400 employees dedicated to the hospitality industry. We know that rewarding our employees and compensating them as the professionals they are allows them to do their best work and grow within our organization. However, current and proposed legislation targeted at the hospitality industry is impacting our ability to do that by forcing companies like ours to fundamentally change the way our businesses work. We didn’t ask for these changes, and we have made adjustments and moved forward, while keeping in mind our family business values, and the best interests for our guests and team members.
It is becoming clear that the steady stream of new legislation risks our ability to be nimble and adapt. As you know, the minimum wage increases have caused us to restructure our compensation packages. El Gaucho and many other Seattle-area restaurants now include a service charge to ensure that our employees continue to be well compensated. Seattle City Council’s latest legislative proposal is focused on how retail and hospitality companies schedule their employees. Some call it “predictive scheduling,” we think calling it “restrictive scheduling” is more accurate.
The regulations are still in the draft stage, but essentially they will require employers to publish schedules 2-3 weeks in advance. If these schedules need to change because of either employee needs or other factors, the company will pay penalties.
Several U.S. cities are planning similar legislation – San Francisco has already implemented some of these changes. The Washington Policy Center reported that when the city had unexpected warm weather last year, businesses were unable to call in extra staff, resulting in frustrated customers due to lack of service. Some workers say the city’s new regulations have discouraged employers from offering extra hours or shifts on short notice due to the “predictability pay.”
No other industries are facing these kinds of restrictions. Imagine if a newspaper required its reporters to post their story schedule 2-3 weeks in advance, and if changes were made to that schedule, their paper would either pay a penalty or not cover the story. Of course this wouldn’t work – the news cycle is dynamic and unpredictable! It’s the same for restaurants. Various factors impact the way we schedule our teams – employee needs and requests, weather, road closures, an accident, or a Seahawks playoff win.
As I said in a recent interview with the Puget Sound Business Journal, every restaurant has their own rhythm and we work with our employees to find what works for both of us. That’s what I wish was better understood. We strive to be a great place to work with an excellent career path for our team. The way regulations are developing will likely hurt those that the Seattle City Council is supposedly trying to help. Entry level positions, such as bussers, runners, and hosts are at risk of losing spots to more experienced and higher skilled workers. This will result in a lack of entry-level roles in this industry.
I care deeply about the quality of life of each of our employees, and when I talk with them about all of this, their responses would probably surprise those writing this legislation. They love working in this industry and for this company because it allows them to earn a great living along with enjoying flexibility. They are worried that this proposed legislation will change what is a positive aspect of their chosen career. We are concerned that the proposed changes will negatively impact this highly valued industry in Seattle, and other cities contemplating these measures.
An article by the Vice President of Methodology for Survey Monkey, Dr. Philip Garland, cautions that the city of Seattle is basing the proposed legislation on a skewed survey. “The city’s efforts are ultimately stymied by its own study because the methods employed are substandard to accurately represent the Seattle worker population.” The problems associated with “respondent driven” sampling methods are well documented.
Restaurants do well when their employees do well. In order for us to take great care of our teams, our guests and our communities, we need the ability to structure our businesses in a way that allows us to thrive and grow. We want to continue to be an excellent employer as well as provide a place of celebration for our community.
Here is additional information, and if you would like to make your voice heard on this issue, please contact your City of Seattle council member. I also welcome your thoughts and feedback.
Media Contact: Beth Herrell Silverberg firstname.lastname@example.org 206.679.5157