How restaurant staff are treated ranks as the most important sustainability issue for diners when they’re eating out. That was the finding of a survey of more than 1,000 people Populus completed for us last year. Diners said they enjoy meals that much more knowing that the people preparing and serving them are getting a fair deal. How much they’re paid is a big part of that.

It’s Living Wage Week – a perfect time to assess how people working hard to create enjoyable dining experiences really are being treated.

Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics frankly made for slightly depressing reading. The ONS found that 70% of people working in the hospitality industry outside London earn less than the Living Wage.

The Living Wage as prescribed by the Living Wage Foundation (let’s call this the real Living Wage for argument’s sake) is £8.25 an hour outside London and £9.40 in the capital, from this week. So the difference between this and the Government’s new National Living Wage, set at £7.20 an hour is about £2000 a year – a not inconsiderable sum.

The true value of The Living Wage

What does it mean for a business to pay the Living Wage, is it really viable and financially sustainable? We asked the owner of Three Star Food Made Good cafe Café in the Park and the answers are pretty unequivocal.

“There are lots of benefits – sleeping well at night because I know I am doing the right thing is one of the most important,” says Carly Trisk-Grove of the Rickmansworth café that she describes as being somewhere between a greasy spoon and a fine dining restaurant.

“We’ve built a team with great working relationships and that only happens when people stay. If we paid less and demanded more then we’d have a higher turnover of staff, our customers would notice it and our sales would go down.”

Age no barrier to wage

Unusually, Carly’s dozen strong team are all paid a salary rather than a wage – equating to the real Living Wage. She says it’s played a huge part in ensuring the continuity and closeness of the team – most of whom have been working together for more than two years and in reaching the happy situation where 70% of their customers are regulars who appreciate the same, happy smiley faces every time they visit. The Café in the Park diverges from the National Living Wage in another key way, age is not factor. So, under and over-25s are paid the same – a move mirrored by Costa when the recently announced their new minimum pay rates of £7.40 and £8.20. Both employers figuring that if the employee can do the job then why discriminate against the young.

We wholly support the Living Wage Foundation in its efforts to persuade employers of the business and societal case for paying a wage on which people can actually live – after all, that is the definition of a living wage. In a 2014 survey by Censuswide, 61% of people said they would recognise the benefits in service from staff in pubs, restaurants and hotels if they were paid the Living Wage.

But the fact remains that a large proportion of people working in hospitality are low paid and staff turnover is high. Many don’t stay the course and a good number of those that do, experience a poor standard of living – reliant on tax credits and other state assistance. Restaurants like Café in the Park, and other SRA Members including The Truscott Arms, demonstrate the importance of truly valuing your greatest asset.  Watch Andrew Fishwick from The Truscott Arms make a compelling case in this video. Paying employees a Living Wage, helps to create a better motivated and more incentivised workforce who in turn ensure a more enjoyable experience for their customers. Remember, they are also your greatest ambassadors.