The Reason Why San Francisco Restaurants Can’t Afford Waiters and What that Means for You

Group of young people eating at a restaurant.

Eating at a restaurant | ViewApart/iStock/Getty Images

Dining out at a local restaurant is a pleasure you might indulge in after a long day of work, as a way to treat yourself to a cheat day, or to celebrate a milestone. There’s nothing like having someone take care of you for an hour or so while you enjoy your meal and the company of friends and family. However, all the perks that come along with eating away from home might become harder to find depending on where you live.

A recent New York Times article revealed restaurants in San Francisco aren’t offering service like they used to. Many San Francisco restaurants can’t afford waiters. Consequently, at more restaurants in the area, customers are expected to serve themselves. Much of the labor involved in dining out has shifted to the customers. Why is counter service becoming more common?

Here’s the reason why San Francisco restaurants can’t afford waiters and what that means for you.

According to The New York Times article, if you dine in one of San Francisco’s restaurants, you might not receive the service you expect. One of the reasons is commercial rents are steadily rising. In addition, labor costs have spiked. Restaurant owners can no longer afford to keep up with rent payments while meeting the demands of monthly payroll. One restaurant following this trend is San Francisco-based Souvla. “Runners will bring your order to the table, but there are no servers to wait on you here, or at the two other San Francisco locations that Souvla has added,” reports the Times.

One of the most expensive cities in the country

In addition, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in the country. This means that restaurant workers cannot afford housing, so they have no other choice but to move. This has created a shortage of qualified restaurant workers. A study conducted by HowMuch found San Francisco, Oakland, and San Diego are among the most unaffordable California cities for the working class.

When it came to the top 15 least affordable cities, San Francisco ranked as the second least affordable (New York came first). A typical working-class household in San Francisco, California, would have a shortfall of $83,000 at the end of the year, according to data from HowMuch. A middle-class couple in San Francisco tends to have an annual household income of $105,140 and typically has a shortfall of roughly $63,867.

Other restaurants are following suit

Many restaurants in the San Francisco area are following the practice of eliminating waiters, according to the article. They include RT Rotisserie, Barzotto, and Media Noche.  “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% of her budget,” notes the Times article.

What this means for you

Although you might enjoy eating out, you could save some money if your local restaurant decides to switch over to this model. One cost you’ll save on is tipping (unless you really want to tip for counter service). Another thing you might want to consider is re-evaluating your food budget. If you’re going to have to do all the work when you eat out, you might as well stay in and eat a home-cooked meal. This could help you boost your emergency savings account and move you on your way toward better financial—and physical—health.

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