And indeed, employees appear happy to have it. In this year’s employee opinion survey, the company asked five questions about benefits, and the responses “overwhelmingly were positive,” says Caitlin Cepluch, benefits manager. “They are happy with it and the cost of it, and I was very pleasantly surprised.”
Davis couldn’t reveal how much offering healthcare insurance costs Cameron Mitchell Group but did say some workers choose not to take advantage of it. And of those that do, it tends to be certain groups who sign up. “Our associates are very diverse in their demographic makeup, so coming up with a benefit plan that touches all those segments is difficult—from a cost standpoint, and what you cover.”
For many of these workers, it’s just another cost they don’t want to add, he says. Young people may prefer to pay off college loans than pay for healthcare, and in some cities, the cost of living is leaving other staff members without the ability to pay for their health.
It’s a huge cost for the company, too, of course. “It costs a lot but it’s part of the cost of doing business,” Davis says. “It’s not an expense we take lightly but we believe it’s a necessary expense.”
Expense is the main reason healthcare remains out of reach for restaurant employees, who often aren’t the highest paid of workers. WeHo Bistro in Los Angeles offered healthcare insurance to its staff, offering to cover the first $100 of charges every month. Only one staff member was initially able to take them up on their offer.
Also in Los Angeles, Josh Loeb, co-owner of Rustic Canyon, Sweet Rose Creamery, Milo & Olive, and Huckleberry Café, wanted to provide benefits, but discovered his workers couldn’t afford them. So, wanting to help them out, in September 2014 he added a 3 percent surcharge to all meals to defray the costs of offering insurance to all employees. Other restaurants in the area soon followed suit.