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Kitchen Staff Crisis Blamed on Television, Hope

One of the more oft-discussed issues in the San Francisco restaurant industry is the skyrocketing costs associated with operating a restaurant. Rents will continue to soar, but an article by Tara Duggan in today's Chronicle argues that the real culprit killing "chef-owned high-quality neighborhood restaurants" is the shortage of quality employees willing to work for low pay:

Across the country, restaurant owners complain of staffing shortages. Many partly blame the newly glamorous role of chefs in the media, which has created a legion of chef-wannabes. But San Francisco's high cost of living, minimum wage laws and new sick leave and health insurance mandates mean that restaurants are being hit harder here than in other cities.

Because owners must pay servers the city-mandated minimum wage of $9.14 per hour, even though the wait staff also earns tips, line cooks' wages are effectively frozen at $10 to $15 an hour. Owners say there's simply not enough payroll to go around.

In other words, because servers need to get paid a (preposterous) nine bucks an hour, the kitchen staff's pay cannot go up. Unfortunately, since these young line cooks watch television (?), they have aspirations to achieve kitchen glory and since they live in the city, they can't afford to make chump change. The result? They move away, robbing the town and restaurant industry of young, talented chefs. Somehow, not everyone is agreeing with the line of reasoning here.

Some, like Le Blog de SF, have already dismissed the article as a "shill for the restaurant industry":

Let me see if I get it: Chefs are so glamorous, everyone wants to learn how to become one, which means that it's impossible to find a warm body to go into a kitchen. No, I still don't get it.

Tara is so naive that she believes that, if California had a tip credit law which allows to pay wait staff lower than minimal wage due to their tip intake, restaurant owners would give a pay raise to the cook. What else could they do? They could not pocket the difference, it's not as if restaurants were run for profit.

It's a bit of a catch-22. Clearly, the skyrocketing costs of the business as a whole—from rent to produce to wages—means there's not enough money for owners, chefs and servers to be happy. Someone is destined to fall short, and since servers have the benefit of the tip jar, it seems they are the ones winning right now. (One thing we'll say: isn't it a bit silly to blame young chefs' "high hopes" on the staff shortage? Shouldn't high hopes be a good thing?)
· Chefs' high hopes, low pay leave S.F. restaurants starved for help [Chron]
· The Chron Shills for the Restaurant Industry. [Le Blog de SF]

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