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Restaurant Owners Weigh In Against Wage Increase In Montgomery County

If the bill passes, the minimum wage in Montgomery County would increase to $11.50 an hour.
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If the bill passes, the minimum wage in Montgomery County would increase to $11.50 an hour.

Restaurant owners were everywhere at last night's public hearing to oppose raising the minimum wage in Montgomery County.

Lynn Martins owns Seibel's restaurant in Burtonsville. Her message was repeated by many of the other restaurant owners who spoke to the county council last night: "Minimum wage is not meant to be a wage to raise a family on," she said.

Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland took that line further at the hearing, saying, "Only about five percent of our workers are earning minimum wage. And 71 percent of them are under the age of 25."

But there were other arguments against raising the minimum wage in Montgomery County to $11.50 per hour by the year 2016. Jeff Owens of the Clyde's restaurant group, which has two locations in the county, said that wage increases would force them to raise menu prices.

"We're well aware how price-sensitive our guests can be when we see our volume decrease anytime we put through even a modest price increase. I can promise you an $18 cheeseburger will drive our guests away in big numbers," he said.

Owens says such a drop in business would mean layoffs.

But that wasn't deterring all the supporters of Councilman Marc Elrich's bill, who showed up at council chambers in similar numbers as opponents. Elrich notes his bill exempts tipped workers, such as wait staff and bartenders, meaning mostly "back staff" would be affected.

"Regardless of who it covers, they all have to put a roof over their head. And they have to feed their families. Frankly, I'm willing to pay more for what I buy in a restaurant if it means people get a decent wage. I'm not interested in the cheapness of my meal," he said.

The Montgomery County bill is identical to measures in neighboring Prince George's County and D.C., and if approved by all the city and its Maryland suburbs would have the same minimum wage.

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