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Would you pay more for a coffee to ensure baristas got a decent wage?

By September 4, 2020September 5th, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

There are some people that run a business purely for profits. But there are others that view their business as a tool for change. Winn Deburlo, the owner of Amethyst Coffee Co is one of those owners.

Deburlo is not only out to provide great coffee for his customers, he wants to provide a living wage for his employees. Unfortunately, many of today’s service industry jobs are underpaid and must rely on tips to make ends meet. That concept is unacceptable to Deburlo. So he’s determined to raise incomes to $50,000 a year – without tips.

“We cannot keep relying on tips in order to pay people a living wage in cities that only get more and more expensive like Denver,” Deburlo told a local news station. “The real issue is that property is expensive in Denver. Rent, commercial – especially residential – is way too expensive and people can’t afford it.”

To meet his goals, Deburlo is raising prices so that customers won’t have to tip. According to CNN, a latte, which was previously $4.50, now costs $6.75. A mocha, which was previously priced at $5.50, is now $7.50, and adding non-dairy milk will cost an extra $1.50. In the end, he says, it’s about a 20-30% increase when you take into account the extra tips that people were already leaving on top of the coffee charge.

But will customers pay $9 for a cup of coffee instead of a lower price that gives them the option to leave a tip? And will they do so – in the midst of a significant economic downturn – in order to help out a coffee shop’s employees? That still remains to be seen. The business, which has four locations in the Denver area, has been slowly reopening in the midst of Covid shutdowns in the area so it’s a little early to tell. So far there are mixed results.

Some Yelp reviewers were are already very supportive. “I love that this cafe is paying its workers more and doing away with tips,” one reviewer wrote this past week. I haven’t been here yet but I’m definitely going to. Please support this business. They are doing it right.”

But unfortunately, others found the cost of a cup too high. “This place is overpriced,” said one reviewer. “Good coffee but the price is outrageous,” complained another. “$7.30 after tax for a latte. I was shocked and thought they made a mistake. When I told the barista the price seemed wrong, I got a death look / eye roll.”

None of this surprises Deburlo, who warned of such a reaction on Instagram when he announced the price increase. He doesn’t care.

That’s because most owners I know who are like Deburlo and who take a public stand on social issues during these politically charged times understand that they are opening themselves up to opposition. They may even lose business because of it. But, for them, owning a small business isn’t just about profits. It’s about creating something that provides value – and a livelihood – for others.

“Would you call an industry that has been decimated in this moment selfish for wanting to offer PTO, vacation and health benefits to their employees while also having enough in reserve to weather this kind of storm?” the company wrote on its Instagram page. “We are increasing our prices not for our profits, but for our people.”

I admire what Deburlo is doing. But let’s hope he can find a balance between paying his employees a reasonable wage while still offering a quality product at a reasonable price. Failing to do so could put him out of business, and that won’t benefit anyone.

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