Durham restaurants begin dishing out 20 percent Living Wage Fee to customers

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Pizzeria Toro is officially reopening its Durham doors Friday. When patrons start dining there again, they'll notice something different on the bill.

Owner Gray Brooks is introducing a 20 percent Living Wage Fee.

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"I hope it is going to be a trend because I think it's better for everybody," Brooks said.

He is trying to combat unemployment problems and make his spot a more attractive place to work.

Brooks said the money will be evenly distributed to all employees from back-of-the-house dishwashers and sous chef to seasoned servers and bartenders.

"Our idea is to have people have jobs, make more and they can work one job, one full-time job and not have to have a second job," Brooks said.

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He also owns Jack Tar Restaurant and Littler Durham, and plans on implementing the Living Wage Fee there as well.

Brooks says customers shouldn't worry about tipping on top of it.

"We don't expect or ask that you do," he said.

The service food industry has been struggling for months to staff-up, even as unemployment rates has been moving in the right direction.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show the unemployment rate in April dropped to 3. 5 percent in Durham and 3.6 percent for Raleigh-Cary.

The cities were at about 5 percent the beginning of the year.

Brooks said he feels his plan is the equitable thing to do to retain a workforce.

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"If you want to get that sort of equity involved at large, in order for the bottom to rise up -- the top's got to come down a little bit. I think this is more of a grassroots approach to it," he said.

The online publication Money Geek has recently named Raleigh as one of the top U.S. cities for job seekers in 2021.

The report notes that the area has one of lowest unemployment rates and hourly earnings are up since last year more than one percent.
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