I was reading your January Editor’s Letter and all I can say is that if this happens in Maine, I would definitely be out of business. Nevertheless, I would be as proactive and creative as possible.
The first thing I’d do to ease labor costs is implement a complete tip-pooling house. The options would be either add the gratuity on to the check automatically or divvy it up among everyone based on how long they have been with the company or the department they work in.
Another option would be to pair up your most outstanding people in the front and back of the house. The front people would then have to tip out their partner in the back. It would ensure top people make the top money and it would progress down the ladder. It would encourage people to work harder while waiting for a new pairing with a better performer. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in my quarterly contests—to break the invisible border separating back and front.
If I had to pay health care for even part-time workers, I would hire them from a temp agency so they are on the agency’s payroll, not mine. Or I might hook up with other restaurants experiencing the same problems and share part-timers and the cost of their insurance. I know it seems simple and idealistic, but it could work if you have good relationships with other restaurants. All I know is that I would be creative to save my restaurant.