Restaurant servers can't afford San Francisco rents so restaurants are going self-serve

San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the world to live — six figure incomes are considered "low" and even the tiniest homes are farcically expensive.

Housing costs are fueled by a combination of property speculation, NIMBYism that prevents high-density projects, and, of course, the world-beating wealth inequality of tech-sector jobs vs everyone else.

Restaurants are feeling the squeeze. Even with the minimum wage for tipped workers rising to $15, food service workers can't make ends meet (dishwashers can make $18-19/hour and still be housing-impoverished). To bridge the gap, restauranteurs — led by the Greek restaurant Souvla — are going self-serve, asking patrons to fill their own water glasses, bus their own dishes, and place their orders at a bar.

"It's really sad," said Jennifer Sullivan, who worked for years as a server in the area. Twenty years ago, she moved from Chicago to Oakland, where she rented a $750 studio apartment and waitressed her way through college. She fears that story would not be possible in the Bay Area now.

"I've even had dystopian future visions of buses full of labor that come from the outskirts of these really wealthy areas," she said.

A few blocks from the original Souvla, at the celebrated modern French restaurant Jardinière, the chef Traci Des Jardins said her labor costs, including taxes and health care, now eat up 43 percent of her budget.

When she opened Jardinière in 1997, they were 27 percent. (Mr. Bililies said Souvla's percentage is in the mid-20s now, even with paid vacation and retirement benefits.)

San Francisco Restaurants Can't Afford Waiters. So They're Putting Diners to Work. [Emily Badger/NY Times]

(via Kottke)