How Joe Biden Really Feels About The Restaurant Industry Labor Shortage

The impact of the pandemic on the collective psyche of America's restaurant workers is causing a wave of anxiety among business owners waking up to the fact that paying below minimum wage with a promise of lucrative tips doesn't cut it anymore. As reported by Grub Street, President Joe Biden didn't pull any punches when, during Wednesday's town hall-style meeting televised by CNN, audience member John Lanni, a restaurant owner, asked Biden how his administration plans to "incentivize those that haven't returned to work yet."

Biden's response cut straight to the core of the dilemma. Observing an emerging trend among former low-wage restaurant workers who are choosing better paying jobs as they return to the workforce, he replied, "God love you for doing what you do, but all kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things." Biden told Lanni hourly wages of $7 to $8 no longer attract good workers. "I think, John, you're going to be finding 15 bucks an hour or more now."

Poverty-level wages just don't cut it anymore

While debate rages regarding the federal minimum wage, restaurant workers are in a class by themselves. The rely-on-tips mentality is so ingrained in the industry, the U.S. Department of Labor allows employers to pay tip-qualifying workers less than the state minimum wage. 

In Ohio, where Wednesday's town hall meeting took place, the legal minimum wage for restaurant workers is $4.40 per hour. The state's standard minimum-wage regulations apply at a two-tier level: $8.80 per hour for employees working at large companies (defined as businesses that have more than $323,000 in gross receipts) and $7.25 per hour for all others — except, of course, for employees who qualify for tips (via Gov Docs). Let's do the math. At $4.40 per hour for an eight-hour shift, a tip-qualifying restaurant worker grosses $35.20. That's $176 per five-day week and $9,152 per year. In Ohio, the 2020-2021 federal poverty level for a single-person household is $25,520 per year (via Ohio Department of Education).