Restaurants, bars taking wait-and-see approach to minimum wage hike

Alberta's minimum wage is going up $1 on Oct. 1, from $11.20 per hour to $12.20, and the lower $10.70 rate for liquor servers is being eliminated.
Effective Saturday, liquor servers in Alberta will no longer earn a lower minimum wage than other workers. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

If you make minimum wage in Alberta you'll be getting a raise on Oct. 1.

As part of its pledge to bring the minimum wage to $15 by 2018, the Alberta government is hiking the current minimum from $11.20 to $12.20 effective Saturday.

As well, the current $10.70 per hour minimum for liquor servers is being eliminated, so that the minimum wage for liquor servers will now be $12.20. Waiters, waitresses, bartenders and other workers who serve liquor have traditionally been paid a lower minimum wage in Alberta because they also earn tips from customers.

Tom Goodman, general manager at the Underground Tap and Grill in downtown Edmonton, has only just arrived from the United Kingdom. On the job for less than a month, he's trying to get up to speed about Alberta's labour laws.

"It's very different to England," said Goodman. "Servers here actually make tips when they serve customers, whereas in England it's not really a tipping culture so their wage is their wage and that's pretty much what they take home."

Goodman isn't entirely sure what the wage increase means for the Underground's bottom line but he expects it will have a big impact on everyone, not just restaurants and bars.

Will food and drink prices rise?

He said he doesn't know yet how the owners of the establishment will handle the increase.

"I'm waiting to hear from head office whether we are going to be increasing our prices along with this ... or if we'll stick to where we are at the moment."

Goodman also wonders if this may have an effect on how much customers tip.

"Because people will know [servers are] getting paid more, will they be tipping less?"

Goodman doesn't anticipate the business will have to lay off any staff as a result of the wage hike. 

Jamie Ferland, managing partner at State and Main on Jasper Avenue, is in the same boat.

"No, we're not doing any layoffs," said Ferland. "I mean there's a little bit of restructuring as far as scheduling goes, but just kind of picking our times better and mostly efficiency-based stuff."

Overall, Ferland isn't too concerned about the wage hike for servers.

"They're worth so much more to us than that, it only makes sense. A lot of restaurants are going to have different ways to deal with this. In the next little while it's going to be interesting."

Higher wages will be a test

Ferland figures this will be a test for restaurants and bars.

"I think each restaurant is either going to become better because of it, become more efficient and figure themselves out or I think they'll be left behind."

And while people might think the wage hike would be welcomed by servers, Ferland says his staff are split on the increase.

"It's about 50/50, I would say. Some people are a little worried about hours and that kind of stuff ... the $1.50 for them doesn't mean as much, say, as someone working at a minimum wage job where they don't get tips."

The minimum wage increase has been opposed by industry groups, including Restaurants Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.