Restaurant owner: Industry moving forward with increased benefits

Allegan County

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — Many restaurants have struggled to be properly staffed during the pandemic.

Because of that, some businesses such as The Southerner in Saugatuck are increasing the number of benefits for their workforce. Those businesses are offering paid time off, health insurance and raising wages.

“The pandemic and the demand from the workforce, quite honestly, is what’s really driving this,” said Matthew Millar, co-owner and head chef at The Southerner. “This wasn’t this moment of largeness where we thought we were going to spring these wonderful things on the workforce. They came out and demanded it.”

The restaurant closes two days a week, but not by choice. They just do not have enough people.

“For somebody who has a family, who needs to keep his car payment, his rent and food on the table, and have availability of health insurance and time to spend with (family) once a year without having to see their bank account collapse — those things have never been there for our restaurant workers, really,” Millar said.

The Southerner, a restaurant in Saugatuck, on May 13, 2021.

These changes were made because ownership says the business may not survive without them, adding that restaurants need to be ready for this “restaurateuring” revolution.

“The consumer has to come along for the ride,” he said. “The consumer has to accept the idea that your food, your restaurant experience is going to be more expensive now.”

Providing benefits such as $15 an hour has a cost, and the ownership at The Southerner says the customer mindset must shift.

“They forget that in that environment, somebody’s suffering,” Millar said. “Somebody’s not making a living wage to make sure you can get $2 tacos and a $10 pork chop.

The Southerner, a restaurant in Saugatuck, on May 13, 2021.

“I hope going forward that we just generally think of what we have called our low-wage earners with a little more respect. And a little more thought for their quality of life.”

These policies are going into effect immediately at The Southerner, and they are hiring.

It is nestled along the Kalamazoo River at 880 Holland Street.

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