Push to phase out 'sub-minimum' wage divides Chicago restaurant workers, owners

A move to increase the minimum wage for workers who make tips in Chicago could be make or break for local restaurants.

One of the sponsors of the ordinance, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said many of Chicago’s 100,000 tipped workers are living in poverty and that investing in them is one of the best ways to grow the city’s economy. 

However, some small business owners say it will be another burden.

The One Fair Wage ordinance would raise the subminimum wage for workers who earn tips to the same rate as regular minimum wage: from $9.48/hour to $15.80/hour to give workers more earning power. But costs are high and there’s a shortage of workers. 


Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said about 97% of restaurants earnings go to operational costs, that they operate on a very slim margin and some owners would have a hard time with it.

"I'm concerned for my independent, small restaurants, like in Rogers Park, Jefferson Park, Morgan Park, Chatham and Little Village," Toia said. "The big boys and girls will figure it out, but restaurants work on such a tight margin that if you put this in and you put it in over two years, that's going to be almost a 30% increase each year. That would be a 60% increase to their labor costs. And then I'm scared we're going to get restaurants going out of business."

Terri Evans, owner of Windy City Ribs & Whiskey, supports the ordinance and said she was able to open a second location by retaining skilled workers. 

"You're going to pay for the price of that because I believe in paying the price to my employees to be able to have livable wages, to be able to come in, pay for their bills but also respectfully take care of their family," Evans said.

The ordinance has not come up for a vote but supporters said they will push for it to pass in City Council in the fall.