‘Every chef should make the same amount as a waiter’
Verizon (VZ) is setting its minimum wage at $20 per hour. A newly formed union of retail employees at an Apple (AAPL) store in Manhattan are demanding base pay of $30 per hour. Walmart (WMT) is offering truckers salaries of as high as $110,000 per year.
The push for once-unthinkable pay rates arrives as many workers see wage increases lag behind soaring costs. Waiters make up the next set of workers who should see a major leap in pay, said celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
In a new interview, Puck told Yahoo Finance that waiters should make as much as chefs, in some cases ensuring waiters an income of $120,000 a year. The tipping system will likely remain an ingrained part of U.S. restaurants, Puck said, proposing a potential service charge that could even out remaining disparities in pay between waiters and chefs.
“As a chef, I would say I would love [if] every chef should make the same amount as a waiter,” said Puck, who co-founded three companies that operate more than 50 restaurants worldwide. “So maybe put on a service charge and we can spread it out evenly.”
“If a chef’s making $120,000, the waiter makes $120,000, so it will be more even,” he added. “I’m trying to bridge the gap, so that we get a little closer.”
A typical waiter makes a yearly salary of $26,000, roughly half of the $50,160 taken home by a typical chef, according to government data released in May 2021.
Last year, as dining and travel habits returned to some semblance of normal, the high demand for workers in hospitality made it the only occupation that saw wage increases outpace inflation, Business Insider reported. Even accounting for inflation, restaurant and hotel workers received a 6.1% pay bump last year.
But a boost in pay across the board cannot necessarily address the longstanding disparity in compensation between chefs and waiters.
The difference in compensation owes in part to the tipping system, which often ties the take-home pay of wait staff to the amount of traffic in the restaurant on a given night. But tips likely will remain a part of the industry, said Puck, adding that in some restaurants they benefit waiters.
“When something is so ingrained in the people who work and in the customer, it’s very difficult to change,” he said. “I think by tipping, especially in high-end restaurants, waiters make really good money.”
Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Puck suggested that the disparity in pay in part reflects the different tasks performed by chefs and waiters, whose “responsibility is for these four tables.”
“Whereas a chef has to manage maybe 40 people in the kitchen, he has to look that every food comes out perfect, that they buy the right things, that everybody clocks in at the same time [and] they clock out,” he added. “So there’s a lot of work going on.”
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