by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“This is something that’s become a bumper sticker,” Jamie Richardson tells me. “But it hasn’t really been thought through. There is a better way to get people out of poverty than hiking the minimum wage.” Richardson is a vice president at White Castle, the chain of famously white-painted and turreted burger joints specializing in slider-style hamburgers in the Midwest and Mid Atlantic. …
… Unfortunately, despite the Castle’s Empire State history, the road ahead may be difficult: “We’re disappointed. What this means for White Castle is we really have to evaluate how we manage our business,” Richardson tells me. “About 30 percent of every sales dollar covers the pay of our hourly workers, and that doesn’t include management.”
“It’s our biggest investment, our biggest cost. And it’s one that if we see increase dramatically through fiat, and we don’t do anything — it’s unsustainable,” Richardson says. “We are in uncharted waters.”
Of course, Cuomo, California governor Jerry Brown, Hillary Clinton, and minimum-wage activists across the country think that dramatically raising the minimum wage will be a boon to workers and that business can handle the cost increases without too much trouble. …
… Cuomo’s idea of “economic justice” is a long way from the dollars-and-cents reality of running a burger business. If labor costs rise dramatically, White Castle will have to balance its books by raising prices or changing its business model so that it needs less labor.
“Is there any room to raise prices to cover costs?” Richardson muses. “We think we’d need to increase menu prices by something like 50 percent. It’s not something we’ve done before. It’d be catastrophic.”
In fact, Richardson says that White Castle has historically seen its customers react noticeably to even slight increases in menu prices. “Some people think that we can just raise menu prices to cover the increased labor costs,” he says. “But it’s a ripple effect. We’re not the only place to eat, we compete with other restaurants. And people always have ‘L cubed’: Making Leftovers Last Longer.”
Richardson says — and common sense dictates — that if menu prices at fast-food chains shoot up by anywhere near 50 percent, many people will stop eating out as much, replacing trips to White Castle with trips to the grocery store. Customers can always vote with their feet and their dollars.