You’ve probably seen the Phantom Gourmet television show.
It’s a half-hour of infomercials for local restaurants, and it’s actually kind of enjoyable. I have learned useful information, like where the best meatballs in Medford are, and I have come to accept my Pavlovian response to a televised plate of onion rings.
The Phantom Gourmet folks are certainly among the most enthusiastic supporters of the local restaurant industry, and their cheerleading certainly does not stop with their TV show. Their industry trade group, the Restaurant and Business Alliance, is not shy about sampling from the state’s wide buffet table of benefits to businesses — catering, for example, is among the lengthy list of services for which movie companies can claim a state film tax credit (now we taxpayers can not only pay Tom Cruise’s salary, but we can feed him, too). The Alliance would also like a meals tax holiday weekend to encourage restaurant patrons to get out and spend some money during this particularly bad winter. As the Phantom company president puts it,
“When a waitress loses a Saturday night to a snow storm, she can’t just catch up the next day. If politicians really care about the 300,000 hospitality employees, they will pass a Meals Tax Holiday to stimulate their tips and business.”
Which brings us to the Phantom’s number one legislative priority these days — the defeat of proposals to increase the minimum wage, particularly the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is $2.63 per hour, the same as it’s been since 1999. (Yes, restaurant owners are supposed to ensure that all their workers receive at least the regular minimum wage of $8.00 per hour by making up the difference, but starting at $2.63 makes it impossible for most restaurant workers to escape poverty.)
You will notice a common theme in the Phantom’s legislative advocacy — if politicians really care about restaurant workers, they will make sure that the laws they write benefit restaurant owners. Here’s the company president again, this time railing against a minimum wage increase:
“This is a dangerous, reckless bill….[it] will cause layoffs and force small businesses to fold. There are 700,000 adults on welfare and unemployment. It’s wrong to focus on people WITH jobs than those WITHOUT jobs, so that politicians can pontificate and moralize, hurting hard-working owners and employees, without understanding the damaging effect.”
I think the Phantom may have become a little unhinged here — I’m not sure exactly what point is being made. (For one thing, there are not 700,000 adults on welfare and unemployment in Massachusetts — that number, wherever it comes from, certainly includes all household members and includes receipt of food stamps as a form of welfare.) I would also bet that the Phantom has failed to recognize that more than a few of the adults who are receiving government benefits are restaurant workers earning $2.63 per hour, a small enough wage to qualify for food stamps. A job (including a restaurant job) is not necessarily a ticket out of poverty — although it should be.