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High housing costs could make Vancouver a self-service city

By GARY MASON for The Globe and Mail

An increasing number of upscale San Francisco restaurants are trying something new: do-it-yourself dining.

Patrons walk in the establishment’s front door and take a number. When their number comes up, they go scout out their own table, fill their own water glasses, get their own alcoholic beverage and retrieve their own tableware. Someone brings their food from the kitchen, but that’s about as much traditional service as you get.

The reason restaurants are trying this approach? Staffing. In one of America’s most expensive cities, finding people to fill these jobs has become increasingly difficult. To attract staff, restaurants have to pay a so-called living salary. Even a US$15-an-hour minimum wage doesn’t qualify in a city such as San Francisco. To pay a restaurant full of servers making a wage they could realistically live on – something in the US$20 an hour range at a minimum − jacks up costs exponentially. It’s easier for a restaurant to just get rid of servers and rely on its reputation for making great food to bring in customers.

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The culprit is housing. It’s far too expensive for someone operating on a server’s wages to even contemplate buying in the city. And now it’s even too expensive to rent – that is if you can find a place. The cost of a rental apartment in Metro Vancouver has gone up two to three times the rate of inflation over the past decade, according to an analysis done by Statistics Canada with data from a Canada Mortgage And Housing Corp. Rental Market Survey. Things have become so bad that even professional athletes are finding it difficult to find accommodations.

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