A ‘living wage’ is good, but I wanted my workers to prosper


Editorials and other opinion content provide insights into issues important to our community and are independent of the work of our newsroom reporters.


Linda Burton of Raleigh demonstrates with hundreds of people in favor of a higher minimum wage at a rally Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at Shaw University in Raleigh.


In the service industry, it is always the customer’s responsibility to tip. These tips have often translated into a living wage for many service workers, and for others, not so much.

While I think tipping is a practice that should continue, it’s time to rethink how the service industry pays its workers.

If we could achieve a model closer to that of Europe, where in many places workers are paid a living wage and are tipped, then we could revive the service industry workforce.

For too long, service jobs have been seen as transient or “less than”. They are some of the hardest working people, tackling some of the most customer service-oriented jobs. It’s time we paid them what they deserve for contributing to the profitability of our businesses.

In the service industry of Orange and Chatham Counties, a living wage has always been easy to earn for restaurant and bar workers, as we live and work in a relatively affluent area. But a living wage is just that: Living . It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thriving. It also doesn’t mean you’re saving money for emergencies or future goals, especially considering the cost of living in our area.

So while many food and beverage employers average the old formula of $2.13/hour plus tips to determine if their employees are earning a living wage, this is not the case. at Belltree Cocktail Club in Carrboro. We now pay our employees the required $15.85 per hour plus tips. We do not take any of their advice.

We hope other companies in the food and beverage industry will do the same.

Belltree staff.jpeg
The staff at the Belletree Cocktail Club in Carrboro. Courtesy of Belltree Cocktail Club

By raising wages, Belltree was able to be certified as a Living Wage Employer by Orange County Living Wage in June 2022.

The ability to implement these changes at Belltree came from months of planning, calculations and an expansion/renovation of our space. All this to increase the sales potential, in order to make it possible to increase the salaries of my staff.

On the other hand, I also co-own another bar in town, where it hasn’t been so easy, and so I’m still working for the same purpose there.

Every operation is different. There is no “one size fits all” approach to implementing a living or “thriving” wage. Yet it must be done on a massive scale to save our industry by helping to make the people who run it happy and safe.

There is a saying that goes, “Exorbitant profits are just underpaid wages”. I believe that to be the truth, especially when it comes to small businesses. We need to be leaders in our communities and forget what billionaires and corporations are doing.

Decent wages mean happy, engaged workers and an amazing work environment. When no one is crazy about what they are doing, there is room for a lot more growth and upkeep.

Before we raised everyone to $15.85 plus tip, my employees were still on average earning a living wage or more. But now they are earning a “flourishing salary”, and therefore, so am I, as a partner of the Belltree Cocktail Club. The next time you come to enjoy a Negroni or a glass of wine, I ask that you continue to tip my exceptional team. They deserve it.

Nicholas Stroud is a partner of the Belltree Cocktail Club in Carrboro. Orange County Living Wage, a volunteer-run nonprofit, was founded in July 2015 and has certified more than 300 living wage employers, who have collectively raised wages by more than $2 million for workers .

This story was originally published July 6, 2022 1:07 p.m.

Michael A. Bynum