What a Real Restaurateur Thinks About Finding Labor and the Tip System in Hawai‘i

Kevin Hanney starts looking for staff and weighs in on the minimum wage increase.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of a series, following Kevin Hanney as he moves 12th Ave Grill into the former Victoria Inn space. 


Photo: Istockphoto

Even though the new 12th Ave Grill isn’t set to open until June (optimistically), Kevin Hanney is already looking for people to staff it. The new, larger 12th Ave Grill will require double the kitchen staff, so Hanney is looking for seven new line cooks.


Did it take a while to staff 12th Ave Grill? “That’s an understatement,” Hanney says. It took a long, long time to get to a staff that gelled and worked well together. When I started 12th Ave Grill nine years ago, the unemployment rate was 2.75 percent. Construction was booming and they were paying $20 an hour, which is more than I can pay a cook.


Hanney will pay an entry-level line cook $9.50 an hour. An experienced line cook can make $15 an hour. The front of house staff makes $7 an hour plus tips. At 12th Ave Grill, Hanney estimates each server takes home $165 in addition to his or her hourly rate for a 5.5 to 6.5 hour shift, which works out to about $35 an hour.


So how does Hanney feel about the state considering a minimum wage increase?


“I don’t have a problem with raising minimum wage,” he says. “Hawai‘i is an expensive place. But they should make an exception for tipped employees, who make a lot in tips.”


“I think tipping creates many more problems than it’s worth,” Hanney says. “I’d love to say, here is the price of the food, this takes care of everyone working, including the waiters. But I don’t think anyone would go for that. Even if [the total bill] works out the same, people are used to the current system. This business is an underpaid business. I try not to be part of that, I try to be as fair as I can. But people don’t want to pay the price for what it takes for the entire restaurant to really make a living wage.”


Diners, restaurant owners, and workers, what do you think about increasing the minimum wage? What do you think about the current tipping system?