Walking along a path has been an apt metaphor for much of my experience in trying to make business decisions for Butter Bakery Café over these 11 years. But every now and then it feels more like jumping off a cliff. That very first jump was the one to leave my teaching career of nearly 20 years to purchase and operate a neighborhood café.
Many more jumps have come along – from hiring my first, full-time salaried baker, to investing in new equipment, to dropping food service corporations from my supply chain, to choosing to relocate to Nicollet Avenue, and most recently to adding earned sick and safe time for all of my employees.
The next cliff is now in front of me. This one feels much different. I’ve never been good with heights; rarely will I even peek over a cliff to see how far down it is. With some cliffs it is pretty clear what is at the bottom, but this one, I’m just not sure. Maybe there isn’t even a cliff at all, maybe it’s just a step, but I’m afraid to look.
But I do have a memory of a real jump that informs my deep sense of growth that is possible with a leap of faith.
When I taught in an outdoor-education-focused middle school, trips were built into the curriculum. One of my advisees was Jon, whose struggles with a bipolar condition and ongoing adjustments to medicines to help him maintain stable relationships meant extra care at school. Jon’s mother was very concerned about his ability to participate in our week-long canoe trip in the boundary waters. But Jon wanted to go. I agreed to act as his chaperone and we developed a long list with his mother to help Jon and me make this work.
And it did.
Jon loved connecting with the wilderness, he appreciated playing a role in the set up of camp, and he and I became fine canoe partners.
And then came the cliff.
One of our guide’s favorite stops was a jumping cliff. At 15 feet, it was high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to warrant danger. The water was deep and the climb to the top well worn by years of campers before us. And the day was sunny and hot enough to be a true delight for our group of nine to jump in the lake. We all made the trek to the top as our guide waited below as the lifeguard.
Jon watched as the others jumped in. He and I stood at the top and debated whether this was ok. I’m not much of a jumper either, so I was fine with not jumping. The others came back up and encouraged us to give it a try. They jumped again. They tried to get us to jump.
Jon told me he’d just climb back down but if I wanted to jump, I should. So I jumped. Our guide asked to go up and jump as the others climbed up for another jump. When she asked Jon if he wanted to join her, he declined and we got back in our canoe.
But then, as our guide was preparing to move us on, Jon turned around and said he wanted to jump.
We called the group back, and though annoyed at first, they soon realized what was happening and cheered Jon on as he and I climbed to the top. He told me that he would remember not jumping and that he hadn’t even tried. That would be worse than jumping. So we jumped. Our group erupted in cheers. Jon had reached an important understanding about what he was capable of.
My café is beginning the process of moving away from the longtime, much ingrained, culture of tipping in restaurants. As I have walked the long path toward being sustainably run, this cliff has loomed in front of me. I knew the brokenness of the tipping system. I knew that tip culture didn’t fit with who we are at Butter. I knew there were models for not using it. I just didn’t want to jump off that cliff. Especially alone.
Recently I learned of the connections of tipping to slavery. I became more aware of how tip culture subsidizes the restaurant industry. Recently I heard a woman share the pain of sexual exploitation through the lens of commodification of bodies and to tipping culture as a form of exploitation. I listened recently to restaurant industry lobbyists put down high-paid servers and plan an attack on their compensation through restoring the tip credit in Minnesota. And most recently, I connected with other high-road business owners wanting to take this jump as well.
A lot of misinformation gets put out in front of consumers. High-end restaurants and bars can produce a few highly paid servers – but they are the exception, not the rule. Our nation’s tipped workers, largely women, and people of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, discrimination, and in particular, sexual harassment. Often, tipped workers are also mothers, struggling to make ends meet. A fair, living wage ensures they can rely on their employer, rather than the whims of customers, to support themselves and their families.
At our café, we’ll be removing the need to add on to the price. The price on the menu will cover the cost of producing our food, providing our services, and paying a living wage rate for our staff. I’ll be guaranteeing that they make as much or more than they averaged while collecting tips. Our staff will join other professionals who earn increases through experience, training, and taking on additional responsibilities. Best of all, they’ll be able to choose shifts that meet their scheduling needs without worrying if it is one of the high tip shifts or not.
Like other jumps off of the cliff, I will hope to find out what we as a community are capable of. Please join me on the jump.