Before any wage hike directives, employers boost hourly pay

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Customers at Poseidon, one of the SERG family of restaurants, enjoy a sunset over Broad Creek from the top floor of the establishment. COURTESY SERG

While the minimum wage controversy swirls around Washington, D.C., without resolve like a tornado without a target, the Southeastern Restaurant Group (SERG) on Hilton Head made headway on its own.

The island's largest employer increased hourly wages across the board 15 percent for full- and part-time employees on July 1. Twenty-eight group partners of SERG unanimously approved the wage hike for its team members.

"We felt the time was right to take this step towards higher wages for our team members," said Alan Wolf, director of operations and a partner for SERG in a written statement. "We are doing this because we value our current employees and want to invest in their continued employment and growth, and because we want to keep attracting the best restaurant professionals in the area to work at our restaurants."

He means it. And the 450 full-timers and 800 part-timers know it now more than ever.

Much of the focus was on untipped staffers working in the back of the house in the group's 17 restaurants. But everyone else, from servers to hostesses to bartenders, also will see their wallets fuller too.

Call it a wage and a lifestyle boost. The company already has initiated tuition reimbursement and a college savings plan, and this wage hike adds to these generous incentives to retain and attract new employees.

The new wage plan allows staffers to earn maximum hourly wages based on skill, training, experience, tenure and full-time availability. Six pay grades in the new wage scale are available for each job position.

"The short-term effect has been employee morale and engagement," Wolf said in a phone interview. "It's possible for someone to move up three times in one year."

SERG will absorb a $1 million hit for raising its wages on its bottom line in the "12-month calendar year," Wolf said, adding that the long- term benefits outweigh the initial financial allocation.

On the hospitality side of the paycheck, the Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island leads by example.

"We take great care of our associates," said General Manager Jay Wiendl. "This is why they are willing to travel here, from as far as Jamaica, year after year. We do pay them more, and our benefits are first class."

Annual reviews and wage increases take place for every associate and are based on performance, regional comp set wage data and position.

"We have a very competitive wage scale, and this is something we study annually to ensure we are on the higher side of the 50 percent by position," Wiendl said. "Our Wage Watch Data continues to show we pay much higher than the Southeast Region, which is why our associates are willing to make the drive to Hilton Head."

In addition to its pay scale, Sonesta provides liberal benefit packages to its employees.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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