The Left Wages War on Restaurants
New York made headlines recently by becoming the first state to ban gas stoves in any new buildings. While the ban received plenty of attention from those involved in climate debates, most commentators have overlooked that the ban is part of another, broader campaign: the left’s war against restaurants. In a series of initiatives—including stove bans, prohibitions against wages that take account of tips, and new collective-bargaining rules—left-wing policies are upending the American restaurant industry.
Despite polls showing that under 40% of New Yorkers support the gas-stove ban, state lawmakers tucked their gas stove ban into the forthcoming state budget, which Gov. Kathy Hochul signed. By 2026 the ban will require all new buildings under seven stories to have electric stoves, and it will expand to new buildings over seven stories by 2029.
The bill exempts certain types of commercial buildings, including those with restaurants and stores. But if New York takes the next step and prevents local gas utilities from expanding, maintaining or serving their distribution system, it won’t spare the neighborhood pizzeria forever.
Already, such locales as Berkeley, Calif., have enacted gas-stove bans with no carve-outs for restaurants. Berkeley’s ban was recently struck down by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but other locales—and possibly the federal government—won’t stop trying.
At the same time, the left is attempting to rewrite the labor rules that have governed restaurants for generations. Last year District of Columbia voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative eliminating the tipped-wage system in the nation’s capital. The existing rules allow restaurants to pay servers and bartenders a subminimum wage, so long as those employees made up the gap in tips. If servers don’t earn enough in tips, the restaurant is required to pay the difference. The subminimum wage before the initiative was $5.35 an hour, but bartenders and waiters often reported making upward of $40 an hour with tips.
Under the new rules, the subminimum wage for servers will be gradually increased until it matches the district’s minimum (currently $16.10 an hour) in 2027. That will mean higher prices, fewer customers, fewer tips, and fewer restaurants.
The elimination of the tipped-wage system is unpopular with servers, yet such efforts are spreading in liberal enclaves. In 2022 voters in Portland, Maine, managed to turn back an effort to change the city’s tipped-wage rules, but Connecticut, Maryland and Illinois are considering their own versions.
New York state has also been debating a heightened minimum wage for restaurant servers. Perhaps to soften the blow, lawmakers propose to subsidize the restaurant industry by setting up a fund to provide forgivable loans to restaurants that pay a full minimum wage plus tips to employees.
The most aggressive effort comes from California. The state Legislature recently passed a bill called the FAST Act, which would raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers to $22 an hour and mandate 3.5% annual raises after that, as well as establish a 10-member Fast Food Council, appointed by the governor, that would oversee fast-food chains in the state.
This imports the European system of sectoral bargaining, under which bargaining takes place on behalf of workers across an entire industry rather than requiring labor unions to organize at the company level. The bill will be on the 2024 ballot as a referendum in the Golden State. A similar measure has been proposed in Virginia and one is expected in Minneapolis.
Big-city dwellers like to brag about their dining scenes. Urban, politically liberal environments have become bastions for dynamic, creative culinary offerings. But unless voters and policy makers in these jurisdictions change course, they will kill the thing they love.