Bellows Falls restaurant gets a jump-start on increased minimum - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Bellows Falls restaurant gets a jump-start on increased minimum wage

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A Bellows Falls restaurant is getting a jump-start on a higher minimum wage. 

Vermont's minimum wage still sits at $9.60 per hour, but Popolo restaurant is making some changes so their employees can make ends meet, implementing a service charge so all workers make $15 an hour.

"I know how hard it is, as a business person, to pay your employees a fair wage," said Sharon Boccelli, local business owner. 

Boccelli owns a business in downtown Bellows Falls. She also frequents Popolo restaurant quite often, where beginning Friday night, meals will come with an extra price-- a 6 percent service charge shown on the bill.

"I think it is very controversial. Adding another six percent on top of that certainly increases the cost of having a nice dinner, and I think, whether it affects my tip or not, I think it's absolutely going to affect other people," said Boccelli. 

Boccelli says she always tips at least 20 percent and will continue to do so at Popolo, but that many customers may not understand who the service charge is actually going to.

"We would like to be sure that our employees earn a reasonable standard of living," said Gary Smith, Popolo general manager. 

Smith says the $6 on a $100 check will, in the end, go to about 30 percent of the restaurant's employees.

"Primarily, it impacts people in the back of house, in the kitchen, who customers don't see, and who make between $9.60 an hour and $12-$13 an hour," said Smith. 

Popolo worked with accountants and calculated that 6 percent of sales would be the amount that would bring wages of employees not already making the money to $15 per hour.

"We chose this method, the service charge, because it allows us to be transparent about what this price increase is going to do," said Smith. 

Rather than raise food prices, implementing the additional charge is specific, both for legalities and for customers. It also prevents additional charges from being taxed as rooms and meals. Still, added expenses on a bill are likely to bring up customer concerns.

"If I saw the service charge, I would obviously have a question to get an understanding as to what the charge is for, and if it were explained, then I would probably be OK with it," said Tyler Blanchard. 

Every table in Popolo has a small notice letting customers know what the "living wage adjustment" is. It's a service that Smith hopes can also simply bring up the minimum wage conversation.

"Some people who work here might be paid ten dollars and have children... it just doesn't seem right," said Smith.

Popolo's general manager says he understands the concerns some have but has seen great feedback from most customers already and that he's confident in the restaurant's customer base that there will be an understanding of where their extra dollars are going.

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