Independent restaurant owners gathered in Dover this past week to talk about fair wages for workers and to offer prospective employees at least a full minimum wage plus tips.

The restaurant industry has been struggling to keep up with consumer demand as people get out of the house after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many places have seating for customers, but there is a long wait time for a table because there are not enough servers on staff.

“The restaurant industry doesn’t have a worker shortage - it has a wage shortage. Tens of thousands of restaurant workers do not want to go back to work to earn poverty wages putting their lives on the line,” Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage, said in a statement.

Jayaraman said paying One Fair Wage — minimum wage plus tips — is the "only way to put our nation back on the road to real economic recovery."

The event took place at Chapel + Main Brewpub in downtown Dover.

Owners Skye Bonney and Ben Lord said part of the problem with discussing the minimum wage plus tips concept with other restaurant owners is they bring up the "burger-flipper" argument.

"A lot of people see restaurant employment as something young people do," Lord said.

That concept frustrates Bonney, who said being a cook or server can be much more in the right environment.

"How is that not a respectable career?" Bonney said.

Photo by Kimberley Haas

Chef Evan Mallett, co-owner of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, was there to find quality staff members and to speak up for workers' rights.

Mallett said the restaurant industry has been able to get away with abusive practices for too long.

Mallett said he runs a different kind of operation where they listen to music in the kitchen, celebrate milestones together and employees don't have to worry about losing pay if medical issues should arise.

Photo by Kimberley Haas

For Mallett, it is all about dignity and respect.

"I can't imagine fostering an environment that does anything but that," Mallett said. "Dignity and respect are fundamental human needs."

Emmett Soldati, owner of Teatotaller in Somersworth, said coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people realize things need to change for good.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity in this moment to refuse to go back to normal," Soldati said.

Soldati's popular cafe is known as "an oasis of queer, hipster, tea, coffee, and pastry goodness." It has reopened for dining.

Photo by Kimberley Haas

Gov. Chris Sununu has set aside $10 million for a "summer stipend" program. That includes a $500 bonus for people who take part-time work and $1,000 for those taking full-time work.

Contact Managing News Editor Kimberley Haas at Kimberley.Haas@townsquaremedia.com.

These Monster Kingshakes Are in Dover, NH at Lickee's and Chewy's