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Megan McArdle

First Restaurants Raise Wages. Then What?

A $15 wage for kitchen staff would push some restaurants to close. Not just bad ones.
Prepping for prep work.

Prepping for prep work.

Photographer: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Restaurants are running out of chefs. The work is astonishingly unglamorous: hot, manual labor performed in a tiny space. It also pays abysmally; the median hourly wage is just $11 an hour, and the 90th percentile, the elite of the profession, makes a princely $15.35. As student loan burdens have gotten more burdensome and urban real estate prices have soared, restaurants in pricey areas are finding it harder to attract workers willing to endure a long commute in order to spend hours getting hot and dirty.

Why don't they just pay more, demands Kevin Drum? "Offer them, say, $15 per hour, and who knows? Maybe there are plenty of good entry-level cooks available. This would raise your total cost of running the restaurant by, oh, 2 percent or so,  but it's not like restaurants are competing with China. They're competing with other restaurants nearby that have the same problem. If the price of a good cook is going up, it's going to affect everyone."