Op-ed | NYC’s minimum earnings standard will put my restaurant out of business

NYC App Delivery Wage
A delivery man bikes with a food bag from Grubhub on April 21, 2021, in New York.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

In August of 2020 I fulfilled a dream I’ve had since moving to the United States and opened my own restaurant, POPRICE, where we serve customers delicious modern Chinese takeout at an affordable price. Despite the challenges of opening during the height of a global pandemic, when so many local restaurants were fighting to survive, I had high hopes and believed we would have success. Fortunately we’ve found a welcoming community, and have since expanded from our original Flatbush storefront to additional locations in East Flatbush and Long Island City. 

POPRICE does not offer in-person dining, and we instead built our business around delivery, relying heavily on popular delivery apps like UberEats, and have used others like DoorDash and GrubHub along the way to help us serve our customers and expand. These platforms now account for about 80 percent of our sales, meaning any changes big or small would have a huge impact on our business. We work hard to provide well-paying jobs to our staff, many of which come from immigrant families like mine. 

That’s why I have been so invested in the court’s decision to possibly have the city reconsider its minimum earning standard for delivery workers, worried about what it could mean to small independent restaurants like mine and countless others. When the final rule was announced last month, I had serious concerns but was relieved when the courts delayed when it would go into effect. Now I hope the city will take this moment to start over and make changes that still support workers without potentially driving small restaurants like me out of business. 

I’m supportive of setting a minimum wage for delivery workers – whose hard work allows a restaurant like mine to survive – but I can’t understand why the city would knowingly push a solution that sets such an extremely high rate with disregard for what it would mean to restaurant owners, our employees that rely on us to make a living, and our customers. 

For a restaurant like POPRICE that relies heavily on delivery services to meet our bottom line – this drop in delivery orders could be our breaking point. In fact, some of the recent changes have already led to making the incredibly difficult decision to let go of three full-time employees in the last month. If this city proceeds with this rule, we will run out of money before the end of the year and have to shut down completely. 

Delivery workers made my restaurant’s success possible and as someone who has worked tons of difficult jobs in the food-service industry, I have serious respect for the hard-work that they do every day. But the current minimum wage rule goes too far.

With the current rule, delivery workers could eventually earn a wage amounting to more than $33 an hour – before tips. It’s easy to see how this will lead to fewer orders being placed on delivery apps for restaurants and other small businesses, meaning less revenue and making it harder to keep my employees earning money to support their families. 

It should not have to be this way. The city claimed to consider comments and testimony from restaurants, delivery workers, customers and the platforms that this would impact most directly, but nothing really changed during this long, drawn-out process. They clearly had their minds made up about what this wage standard should look like and ignored all of us every step of the way. 

Now, I am begging the court to take this chance to do this the right way. There is no reason they can’t achieve their goal of a minimum earning standard that meets the needs of delivery workers, while protecting our precious small businesses. Please revisit this rule and actually consider the needs of businesses like mine who would be impacted without brushing us aside, otherwise we won’t be around for customers, workers, or our community.

Shuai Zhang is the owner of POPRICE restaurant in Brooklyn and Queens.