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The Restaurant Lobby Isn’t Jazzed by Quebec’s Minimum Wage Increases

But they’re happy the server wage is staying low

A Washington protest in favour of increased minimum wages
Getty Images

The sizeable number of Quebec restaurant workers who earn the minimum wage (both the regular and “tipped” versions of it) are set to earn more starting from May this year — then a little more each year through to 2020. Quebec’s Labour Minister Dominique Vien announced the increases last week.

But the country’s main lobby group for the restaurant industry, Restaurants Canada, doesn’t love the changes. Speaking to Eater, their executive vice-president for government affairs Joyce Reynolds says this year’s 50-cent increase (from $10.75 per hour to $11.25) represents “labour costs increasing above inflation”.

Reynolds adds that paying staff more pushes restaurateurs to make tricky decisions about whether or not to increase menu prices. “You have to look very carefully at how much you can raise your menu prices by without losing your customers or having your customers spend less when they’re in your restaurant.”

But the group is satisfied that the gradual increase to $12.45 per hour by 2020 is clearly laid out, giving restaurant owners “some certainty”.

There’s going to be a bigger gap between the regular minimum wage and the one that tipped servers and bartenders earn, though — it’s going up by less than a dollar per hour by 2020, to $9.95.

Minimum Wages in Quebec

Year Regular minimum wage Tipped minimum wage
Year Regular minimum wage Tipped minimum wage
1 May 2016 $10.75 $9.20
1 May 2017 $11.25 $9.45
1 May 2018 $11.75 $9.65
1 May 2019 $12.10 $9.80
1 May 2020 $12.45 $9.95
Gouvernement du Québec

Reynolds wouldn’t say whether or not she thought this disproportionately low increase was fair for servers, instead highlighting some points about the money tipped workers earn.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is the significance of tips in the overall compensation of servers. From our perspective this allows a restaurant operators to pay their kitchen helpers and their sous chefs and their cooks more.”

“We hear stories of servers who don’t even cash their paychecks because they’re so insignificant compared to the amount they earn through tips.”

As for the increasingly visible campaign for a $15 minimum wage, both Restaurants Canada and Minister Vien have been dismissive of it. The lobby group’s official statement was blunt about this: “We applaud the government for not bowing to pressure to increase minimum wage to an arbitrary number.”

“It’s not based on what is economically feasible, for a small business operator to absorb a labour cost change of that magnitude. It’s all the other wages that get ratcheted up as a result.”

It’s worth noting that major groups pushing for that $15 wage aren’t expecting it to happen immediately, saying it should be phased in over time. That means restaurateurs wouldn’t have to handle a sudden, large increase.

When asked about other countries that have managed substantially higher wages for restaurant staff, such as Australia, Reynolds suggests that you can say goodbye to jobs when that happens.

“The dynamics of the industry [in Australia] have changed so that self serve is much more prevalent there.”

But that said, Australia is still known for both a strong restaurant scene, and no major problems with unemployment.