Oregon’s minimum wage is set to rise again Monday, and much of the impact will be seen in restaurants.
In Deschutes County, the minimum wage will rise from $10.75 per hour to $11.25 per hour. In the Portland metro area, the minimum wage will be $12.50 per hour. In rural counties, including Crook and Jefferson, it will be $11 per hour.
Few jobs in Central Oregon pay minimum wage, but those that do are concentrated in hospitality, one of the region’s largest industries, according to the Oregon Employment Department.
While the wage increase benefits restaurant servers, it’s prompting owners to look for ways to rein in expenses. Consumers can expect to see higher food and drink prices and counter service become more common, representatives of local pubs said.
“It’s not sustainable,” Immersion Brewing co-owner Sean Lampe said of labor costs. The brewpub in the Box Factory building in Bend continues to offer table service, but Lampe worries that consumers are sensitive to the cost of dining out. “I think we’re reasonably priced,” he said, “But we get comments and reviews (saying) we’re an expensive place to go.”
Boneyard Beer opted to use counter service in its Bend pub mainly because of Oregon’s minimum wage, General Manager Jon Avella said. The pub opened on NE Division Street last summer.
The July 1 hike is the third in a series of six increases that began in 2017 and are scheduled through 2022. At that point, the minimum wage in Deschutes County and other areas outside Portland not designated as rural will be $13.50 per hour. In the Portland metro area, it will be $14.75 per hour. In rural counties, including Crook and Jefferson, it will be $12.50 per hour.
With the counter service model, Boneyard still has about 15 people on the front-of-house staff roster and is looking to hire a few more for the summer, Avella said. With traditional table service, the number would be 25 to 30, he said.
All of Boneyard’s customer-facing employees earn minimum wage, plus tips, which average 15% of sales, Avella said.
Crux Fermentation Project switched to counter service after expanding its pub this spring. Marketing manager Jason Randles said the decision wasn’t driven by an effort to reduce expenses.
“We felt counter service was the best option to accommodate our guests given the size and fluidity of our space,” Randles wrote in an email.
But another hike in the minimum wage will be difficult to absorb without passing some of the cost to Crux customers, Randles said.
Locals have complained about menu price increases, but the prices don’t seem to faze tourists, said Chris McLaughlin, a server at Deschutes Brewery’s downtown Bend pub.
The raise he gets with the minimum wage hike will go to his 401(k) retirement savings and help cover his health insurance premiums, McLaughlin said.
Kitchen workers, who typically earn more than minimum wage, are likely to see raises, too.
“Everybody in this industry is scrambling for people,” McLaughlin said. “All of the downtown businesses right now have promotions going on for back-of-the-house help.”
Most of Boneyard’s kitchen staff recently received raises, Avella said. “That was just for being loyal and being really good at their jobs.”
Oregon is one of seven states that requires employers to pay tipped employees the full minimum wage. Of all the jobs in Deschutes County, 5.7% pay minimum wage, giving Deschutes County one of the lowest shares of minimum wage jobs in the state, according to the state Employment Department. Within the leisure and hospitality industry, however, 13% of 17,720 jobs, or about 2,300 jobs, paid minimum wage in the third quarter.
Labor is expensive because the industry is in its seventh year of unprecedented growth, not because of minimum wage increases, said Todd Montgomery, executive-in-residence of hospitality management at Oregon State University-Cascades. “The labor shortage has gotten tighter every year. We’re under supply constraint. As a result, for the most part, the price has gone up.”
Montgomery teaches OSU-Cascades students how to use money-saving technology in hotels and restaurants. He thinks more businesses need to embrace apps and websites like the one Boneyard uses so that customers can place orders from their tables.
Customers are still welcome to walk up to the bar to order in-person, but they might have a longer wait, Avella said. “The bar staff is trained that those table orders are top priorities,” he said. “We want to get those drinks over to them as fast as possible.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7860, email@example.com