As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of small business owners who have increased the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the third in that series, and represents an interview with business owner Vincent Whitehurst.
Whitehurst and his partner Will Alphin co-own Foundation, a craft cocktail bar in downtown Raleigh. Foundation opened more than six years ago, and offers starting wages of $3.50-$5.50/hour for tipped employees. The current minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13/hour.
When did you make the decision to set your wage floor above minimum?
We made the decision prior to even opening. We’ve been paying above minimum wage since the day we opened, and we’ve never reconsidered it. We wanted to attract good people and have an edge up, essentially. We never thought we’d try to just pay the minimum. We made the decision based on trying to get and retain good people, and show people that we intended to do better than the competition. It was also because we were both coming from different industries [architecture] where you don’t typically pay the minimum wage. We thought “you know, we don’t want to pay the minimum wage…that’s just too low”.
What values were behind the decision?
People here make most of their money on tips, and the people here that are working full-time are making well above the minimum wage when you factor in tips. We have low turnover; we have one guy who’s been here since we opened the bar, and that speaks to our commitment to keeping our employees around. From a values standpoint, we just appreciate good people. It’s not just about the money, either—it’s also the community. The people here, they call this a family. These guys feel like this is their group. It’s who they hang out with, who they go to dinner with when they’re not working. It’s the way we manage the business. We give people a lot of freedoms here. I think employees also consider that.
How does a higher wage floor impact your business?
If you have good people working for you, and decide up front that you’re going to pay them better, then it comes back around. You end up […] with people who understand service, who make people feel good, who know how to talk to people. You’re keeping them there, so you’re training them long-term. I think a lot of places think “oh, it’s just a server, they can just serve anywhere”. Here, everybody’s committed to learning these products, and sometimes it takes a few years. It’s a long-term vision; you train somebody and over time it’s going to help the business.
This interview has been edited for length.