This interview—start at the 7:00 mark—is required viewing for anyone interested in this debate, because Douglas gets specific about last year's profits and how raising the minimum wage would change the landscape for his businesses. Douglas has been offering health care to his employees for 24 years, back when very few restaurants offered health care, and a while back he raised the base wage for cooks in his company to $15 an hour. Why? "I would love to see cooks be able to practice their profession and still be able to buy a house, and still have kids, and still live a real life." But the $15 minimum didn't apply to all the everyone in his company. "That doesn't include dishwashers, that doesn't include waiters, bartenders, busers, or any of the tipped areas of our business—just cooks." He figured raising the base wage for cooks to $15 would cost $1.2 million a year. It ended up costing $1.8 to $2.2 million per year.
And if the minimum wage were raised for everyone, including tipped employees? How much would that cost? "$5 million in our company, which is $2 million more than we made last year... I don't know that it would put us out of business, but I would say we would lose maybe a quarter of the restaurants in town, would be my guess. And if we have to lose a quarter in order for people to make what people are considering a living wage, maybe I should just shut up and take it. I just want the facts. I don't want these slogans because they're nonsense. Let's talk about real numbers."
UPDATE: I'm getting a bunch of letters about my failure to write out here in words what Douglas says in the video, which is that for his company and the number of restaurants he has, paying everyone $15 minimum would work out to $5 more per customer per visit. In my personal opinion, that doesn't seem like a lot. Keep in mind that most restaurateurs don't own 15 restaurants like Douglas does (and scale matters in this discussion), and also keep in mind that Douglas has been paying his cooks $15 an hour for a while (so that's already factored into current Tom Douglas prices). The reason I posted the video is not because I agree with Douglas; the reason is because he's getting specific about his numbers, which helps this conversation along.