Sometimes after eating in Miami Beach, it’s better to avert your eyes from the bill. Just pay and avoid the stress of rehashing this island city's notoriously high prices. Your server may have slipped in an extra charge, but it’s little compared to the absurdity rolled up with extra taxes Miami's politicians divert for god knows what reason.
Recently after a quick breakfast at Alton Road’s David’s Café, there was a new charge on the bill. Twenty-five cents, the check declared, had been added for a “Sinai donation.”
That Sinai is Miami Beach’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. The extra quarter was part of a six-year-old program the hospital’s foundation has run in partnership with Miami Beach hotels and restaurants to help fund some of its $136 million of charitable care.
It began several years ago when Mount Sinai “took note of the make-up of hospitality industry employees, who are typically young, hard-working people,” said Michael Milberg, the foundation’s chief development officer. “However, due to the rising costs of health care, consumers are finding themselves absorbing these costs through higher premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. As a result, many find themselves opting out of obtaining medical insurance coverage.”
In 2013, one of four Miami Beach residents didn’t have health-care coverage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That also means Sinai’s emergency room has become the first and only option for many Beach residents and workers, Milberg said. The foundation’s federal tax returns don’t break out how much the hospital earned off this partnership program or which businesses are involved. The hospital also declined to provide that information.
Still, it's shameful for Beach businesses, no matter how few or many, to pawn off
In the Miami metro area, cooks in 2014 earned an average hourly wage of $11.87 and $24,690 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Servers' earnings came in at $10.36 per hour and $21,540 a year. That puts a server with a family of four below the federal poverty line of $24,250 and a cook just above it.
The impact of poor wages shows. A recent survey by Austin-based food consultants Alchemy Systems found 51 percent of food workers go to work when sick. Without paid sick days or health-care benefits, they’re more comfortable coughing onto your meal than spending the day in bed.
Sores brought on by the restaurant industry’s tradition of low wages and poor benefits have finally begun to fester. In cities across the nation, top kitchens are having trouble finding cooks. With a lack of skilled hands, some chefs have to think twice about showing errant cooks the door.
“The talent pool is so thin on a daily basis there’s so much I swallow because at the end of the day, I need the guy here,” said Alex Chang, chef of the Vagabond Restaurant & Bar.
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Today, restaurant watchers are monitoring what will happen to Shake Shack chairman Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group after it announced its New York City restaurants would eliminate tipping in an effort to seek parity between the sometimes highly paid waitstaff and the always poorly paid kitchen staff. It hasn’t always worked out well in the past.
The simple fact is that caring better for restaurant employees will cost businesses and consumers more. It’s no easy task in an industry where food costs are on the perpetual upswing, rents are often doubling or tripling, and the employee base can be transient and short-lived.
Restaurants and hotels that avoid the hard questions by putting up some feel-good donation they themselves don’t even pay are only delaying the inevitable. One day, someone will figure it out, and those businesses that perpetuate a system of near-indentured servitude based on either greed or laziness will find their days numbered.