On Tuesday, a customer named Brian who had just dined at the rather pricey Oceanaire franchise in D.C., noticed that his check included the message that, “Due to the rising costs of doing business in this location, including costs associated with higher minimum wage rates, a 3% charge has been added to your total bill.” Brian reported the stingy notice to local blog Popville, and by Thursday the Washington Post had picked up the story as well.
So, what’s the big deal anyway? For starters, as one Popville commenter put it, “I have no problem paying high prices to support better wages, but I do have a major problem with this sort of deceptive business practice.” Another commenter noted that the bill’s language seemed to shift the blame onto the restaurant’s employees, as if they should feel ashamed that D.C.’s minimum wage rose in July from $11.50 an hour to $12.50, still well below an acceptable pay rate, or the lowest of progressive policy benchmarks, $15 an hour.
What makes the petulant display even more distasteful is that Oceanaire is operated by Landry’s, and the chief executive of that company is a guy named Tilman Fertitta, a billionaire and owner of several other chains such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the Rainforest Cafe, and McCormick & Schmick’s.
Fertitta is known for making piles of money and for not keeping his bad opinions about minimum wage policy to himself. Fertitta’s stance—as best I can tell, for I do not watch his crappy business tv show—is that the minimum wage is a “training wage” (i.e. those who make a minimum wage don’t perform a vital service or need to make enough money to support themselves and/or dependents, neither of which are true), and raising wages for the few employees he claims make minimum wage would be disastrous for business.
Last month, Fertitta said on CNBC (where he stars on the program Billion Dollar Buyer), that Donald Trump is “doing a great job,” and that America is great because of American capitalism.
Anyway, there’s no saying exactly how that notice ended up on Brian’s bill, but these are compelling clues.
After the Washington Post got in touch with Landry’s, the company issued a statement promising to remove the surcharge from their D.C. locations, and an Oceanaire representative told the Post that the surcharge would be removed at all of its locations.