By Makenzie O'Keefe

DENVER (CBS4) – The City of Denver has proposed a minimum wage increase, which would raise the hourly pay floor to more than $15 by Jan. 1, 2021. However, some restaurants are already trying to help their employees in unique ways.

A 'living wage' is added to a customer's bill at American Elm.

A ‘living wage’ is added to a customer’s bill at American Elm. (credit: CBS)

American Elm is one of several restaurants in the Denver metro area that have implemented a living wage onto customers’ bills.

“To me, it’s just about finding a way to compensate people who do a job that is critical to the experience,” explained Bob Reiter, owner of American Elm.

An employee prepares food at American Elm.

An employee prepares food at American Elm. (credit: CBS)

The idea is that servers and bartenders can often double their wages through tips, but back-of-house employees like cooks and dishwashers are set at a flat rate. Even if servers wanted to share their tips, they can’t.

“I’m not used to getting paid enough to live in the first place, and you know, we chose this crazy career,” Parrish Horne said, a line cook at American Elm.

(credit: CBS)

The restaurants’ living wage goes directly to back of house employees like Horne, to bridge the pay gap in the industry.

“The living wage gives you the opportunity to actually get paid for your effort and get paid for your work at the same time,” explained Horne. “To be able to pay my rent, and enjoy my job is a beautiful thing.”

American Elm restaurant in Denver

American Elm restaurant in Denver (credit: CBS)

It’s a small fee for customers that Reiter says helps him hire great employees, and elevates the dining experience for customers.

“Having people who work for you who feel they’re invested in the success and as the business profit grows so does their compensation, it’s a really powerful thing,” he told CBS4. “It builds culture and it builds a team.”

Reiter adds it’s a transparent way to show customer their money is going toward hard-working and often underpaid employees, rather than increasing the price of menu items.

Several other restaurants in Denver use this business model as well, to ensure all their workers can afford to live in the city where they work.

Makenzie O'Keefe


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