A couple of months ago, we went along to a dinner put on by the Sustainable Business Network, which was a very interesting night but I found myself unable to write about it without seething with rage remembering the man I’d been seated next to. He owns a franchise chain, believes that the only reason there are hungry kids in New Zealand is because their parents choose to buy booze, and he doesn’t believe that sexual assault and domestic figures are accurate (they’re over-reported apparently- “well what is sexual assault anyway? Is it when a woman just says no?”). He also said that we can’t pay people more, because then all the jobs would go to Australia. I can’t imagine driving to Australia to pick up a burger, so that was a bit of a curious thing to say. However, what made me very very happy was that Marianne and Lucas from our beloved Mexican restaurant La Boca Loca were there, and made a passionate argument for paying a living wage. They’re not just talking the talk however – La Boca Loca has been certified as a living wage employer since July. And guess what? They’re still here.  So I thought it would be good to have a chat with them about what they’re doing.

image of bowls filled with delicious mexican food
Delicious food (image stolen from La Boca Loca’s site. The Wellingtonista doesn’t pay photographers a living wage. We’re lousy people.

 1. So, first and foremost – what is a living wage?

A living wage is a wage high enough for a worker to meed their needs, enjoy their life and participate in society. At the moment, research indicates that $18.80 an hour is the level needed for a living wage in New Zealand.

2. Why has La Boca Loca decided to pay a living wage, and when did you implement it?

We learned about the Living Wage earlier this year and started looking into what it was, and why it was set at that level. It seemed pretty clear to us that if we were to live up to our own standards as an ethical business we needed to adopt a living wage. Paying our team enough to live on is core to what ethical, sustainable and successful business means to us.

We started moving to a Living Wage soon after, and were certified as a Living Wage employer in July this year.

3. So it’s been (a couple of months?) now – how’s it going?

It’s going great. Our staff are happy, our customers are happy, we know we are doing the right thing and the cost of our wage bill hasn’t gone up as much as we had predicted. There’s an entire school of economic theory that could explain why that’s the case… the efficiency wage theory (which I’ll talk a bit more about in just a minute because I have a feeling you are about to ask me about the economic benefits of this approach).

4. Assume that I actually don’t care about people – what are the economic benefits of operating this way?

The Living Wage is good for business. Firstly, great people make great restaurants, so by paying the Living Wage we are taking better care of our most important asset. The better care we take of our staff, the better care they can take of our customers – and of their own families. Secondly, our customers like knowing that the people working hard to serve their meal are being paid enough to live on. Thirdly, the signs are that our costs won’t go up much – our staff are working smarter to help make this move a success – this is related to the idea of the ‘efficiency wage’. Fourthly, it’s good for small businesses like us if more people in our community have a little bit more money in their pocket – in other words, we want our staff to be able to afford to eat at our restaurant. And we’d like a lot of other people to be able to as well.

5. If the other lovely business owners who read the Wellingtonista were thinking about moving to a living wage, do you have any advice for how they can start?

It’s pretty much impossible to say what is right for other businesses. We decided this was right for our business. We would encourage other businesses to give it serious thought, to look past the rhetoric of the right that assumes that anything good for workers is bad for business – which is patently untrue. Do your own research, and decide what’s right for you, your team and your business. And if you do decide this is the right thing to do, just do it. Don’t spend too long worrying about it or slowly phasing into it. As Lucas likes to say – just rip off the plaster and get on with making it work.

6. Are you going to tell us how to make your spicy margaritas?

We are indeed. Very soon. In fact, later this week we’ll start taking pre-orders for our forthcoming cookbook which will include the recipe for the spicy margarita, thanks in part to the fact that Wellingtonista rallied so many votes for it in our cookbook competition!

Hurray for good people doing good things! This should be all the encouragement you need to spend more time (and money) on their delicious food.