$17.50 an hour? Hospitality companies say quality pay brings quality staff

Katie Rice, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

When Eddie Hamann heard his employees found it hard to make ends meet in Orlando, he saw an opportunity to help.

Hamann, a managing member of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, said a recent survey of the Orlando entertainment complex’s 350 employees discovered many of them were living with three or four people to afford rent. Inflation meant many were saving less making $16 an hour in December than they were with a $13 hourly wage pre-pandemic, he said.

So Andretti raised its starting wage to $17.50 for entertainment workers and $19 for culinary staff this month, rates among the highest across Orlando’s tourism industry.

“If we remove the stress from them having to worry about their bills, then they can focus on the job that we’re asking them to do,” Hamann said. “And as a result, our customers will have a better experience.”

Andretti is part of a growing number of other tourism-focused businesses in Orlando, including Universal Orlando Resort, raising their pay above $15 an hour to attract and keep workers as the hospitality industry’s staffing continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospitality jobs plummeted during the pandemic as workers were furloughed, laid off or left the industry for better opportunities. In studies of these employees, people who already felt overworked, underpaid and lacked work-life balance said they were easily discarded by employers and the industry when tourism halted during lockdowns and recovery trailed.


Increasing worker pay is just part of the solution, along with increasing time off and other employee well-being benefits, said University of Central Florida hospitality professor Michael “Doc” Terry. But by responding to workers’ concerns, companies like Andretti show they value employees’ feedback and that goes a long way toward resolving staffing issues in a job market where workers are seeking balance.

“Are you going to bite the bullet and pay the extra money and provide the right experience for the employee that’s coming in so they stay and feel good about the culture and being there?” Terry asked.

Universal raised its starting pay to $17 an hour in February and said it would be improving other benefits based on worker feedback.

Disney was the first local employer to announce a path to a $15 minimum wage in 2018. That rate took effect in 2021 and currently remains the same, though Disney has been negotiating a new contract with its unions since August.


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