By Dale J. Venturini
In my column just a few months back, I unveiled the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) Kitchen Cabinet: a think tank of leading owners, operators and general managers from myriad industries who have an impact on Rhode Island’s vibrant hospitality industry.
Since then, the RIHA Kitchen Cabinet has convened three times at member locations throughout the state, focusing on each of our representative industries (lodging, food service, ancillary segments) within RIHA’s 900-plus membership.
The first meeting served as an opportunity to get participants on the same page and in the same room, and to introduce the Kitchen Cabinet and its goals. At each meeting, discussions were focused on industry issues rather than individual issues; these listening sessions encouraged participants to hear and consider viewpoints and perspectives from other affected stakeholders.
A primary goal of each meeting is to identify and chart individual “pain points” from each member’s perspective and to also identify the common areas that affect the industry as a whole. This exercise helps us to determine which issues/topics should be addressed through advocacy, best-practice education and/or identifying vendors who have solutions, which was the focus of our meeting in April.
One example is for the issue of employee recruitment/retention, what solutions does RIHA/the RI Hospitality Education Foundation (RIHEF) already have available? What additional solutions can we develop or deliver?
A large focus of our Cabinet meetings includes our advocacy and legislative efforts. We are currently tracking hundreds of bills that have the potential to affect our industry, but the most pressing currently is House Bill 5590, which is aimed at eliminating the tip credit, thereby increasing the tipped, hourly wage in RI to $14.95. It goes without saying that an increase in labor costs of this magnitude would be devastating to the state’s vibrant restaurant industry.
In part due to our conversations with the Kitchen Cabinet attendees, RIHA firmly stands in opposition to any proposed legislation that seeks to end the tipped wage. Federal and state law already requires that if a tipped worker does not make at least the minimum wage in tips during a shift, their employer must compensate them for the difference. Thus, the very least a tipped wage employee will ever receive is the state’s current minimum wage, which is $13 per hour in Rhode Island as of Jan. 1.
From the ongoing staffing shortage resulting from “The Great Resignation,” to unresolved supply chain disruptions, and increased product and operational costs due to rampant inflation, our industry’s operators cannot afford to absorb a dramatic and unnecessary escalation of their labor costs too.
Raising the tipped wage would certainly increase labor costs, which often results in employers cutting back on workers’ hours and even eliminating positions altogether, effectively hurting those that this legislation intends to help. There is also evidence suggesting that these effects trickle down into consumer costs as businesses are forced to raise prices to maintain profitability.
As the Kitchen Cabinet continues its important work, we will undoubtedly collaborate to address more and more of the pain points and issues that are facing our industry. Rhode Island’s hospitality industry is a job creator, economic driver and one of the state’s top tax generators. We need to be supported—not undermined—in order to protect the best interests of our workers and operators and will continue our efforts to ensure the success of our industry.
For more information on the RIHA Kitchen Cabinet, and for details on upcoming RIHA/RIHEF events, please visit rihospitality.org.
A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.