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The guys talk about all you can eat buffets implementing surcharges for unclean plates. They then address, "I have an minor working for me who said they would work for half of what the minimum wage is. Can I legally do this?"

Full Podcast Transcript

NASIR: Welcome to Legally Smart Sound Business.
This is Nasir Pasha.

MATT: And this is Matt Staub.

NASIR: And welcome to the podcast where we cover business stories with our legal twist and also answer some of your business legal questions that you, the listener, can send to

MATT: It is the Friday episode so I’d like to give a shout-out to a select listener. I got some compliments this week from – I’ll give the first name only – Ericka. She was giving compliments out. Every introduction is a little bit different and she liked that.

NASIR: She liked that?

MATT: Yeah, thanks for listening. We appreciate it. I’m sure she’s one of the people too that have given us a good review on iTunes.

NASIR: She’d better have. Otherwise, I’ll be upset. Otherwise, we should take back that compliment or that thank-you that you gave.

MATT: We can always edit it out so that’s not a problem.

NASIR: That’s true. We’ll check it afterwards. We’ll have our fact-checkers do that.

MATT: All right. Let’s get into the story we have for today. This is something near and dear to my heart.

NASIR: Very good.

MATT: The premise of this story is a restaurant has added – and I think this is in Switzerland, I’m trying to remember – yeah, it’s a Swiss restaurant that’s adding a surcharge for all-you-can-eat customers who don’t actually clear their plate. And so, I have a couple of problems with this. (1) I’ve never even had this issue ever so I don’t even understand the plate that’s not clean. That’s a little bit confusing to me. (2) It’s not all you can eat if you’re charging someone. I get their idea because, at buffets, people don’t do it right and they’ll just go up there and grab a ton of stuff and eat half of it and move onto the next plate. You’re paying for that service. Adding a surcharge to it, I don’t like that.

NASIR: Really? One reason I hate these all-you-can-eat places is because, if you just look to your right, look to your left, you just have people that just go overboard, fill their plates up, and then they’re like small little thin people. How are they going to finish that plate? And then, you look over twenty minutes later, it’s pretty much still full. That’s a little frustrating, no? I mean, it’s just so wasteful. I don’t have the same problem but I think, at the same time though, I guess I was just raised to clear my plate. I control the size of my eyes compared to the food or my stomach or whatever the stupid saying is.

MATT: Yeah. As always, not good with the reference.
You do raise a good point. You definitely see that a bunch but, to me, that’s why you’re paying for it. It’s that opportunity and it is very wasteful but you’re paying for the opportunity to be wasteful if you want.

NASIR: No, you’re paying to be able to eat all you want. That doesn’t mean that you should take things that you’re not going to eat, right?

MATT: Yeah, but it’s all you can eat. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily agree with this.

NASIR: But, if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t take it.

MATT: I agree with that but I don’t like the surcharge and they have some pretty funny ones that happen in the US, too. I think it was they sued a sushi restaurant because they cut him off because he wasn’t eating the rice in the sushi. He was just eating the fish.

NASIR: Yeah, I saw that.

MATT: Which is kind of funny. If you go anywhere, that’s why they give you as much rice as possible because they try to fill you up. This is a nice tactic if you don’t want to fill up, just don’t eat the rice. I’m giving advice now from an eating perspective.

NASIR: Yeah, that’s a little different. That’s true.

MATT: This one’s really funny. A man in Wisconsin called the police to complain after eating twelve pieces of fish that he had been cut off. The only problem is they gave him eight pieces of fish after that but he came back to protest in the parking lot on the next day. From a legal perspective, I guess, as long as they are informing the customers of this, then legally they’re probably fine.

NASIR: Yeah, I think, if you look at the franchises that have all-you-can-eat, they do have some small restrictions here and there. But I think, for the most part, they just let it go and I think they do other things to design how people eat – whether it’s the size of the plates or the placement of the food and so forth. They just accept, if you have one person that kind of finds some kind of loophole – like they said, they were only eating the fish instead of the rice and it’s cutting into their margin or whatever – then that’s acceptable to them. But some of these smaller joints where that kind of thing has more of an effect, if that’s your rule or policy, then you’re going to have to make it clear to the customer; otherwise, you’re going to get wrapped up into a lawsuit and possibly lose just like these people did.

MATT: This sure reminds me of something I always wanted to do when I was younger. My friends and I, I think they called it, I don’t know if you ever had an Old Country Buffet, I think that’s what it was called. It was like the OCB challenge. You’d get there when they open and stay until they close. You’re getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the reason I bring this up is because I was like, “Well, you can’t just sit there all day.” Someone was telling me, like, “Oh, no, what you have to do is you always have to have a plate that you’re eating. You really have to pace yourself throughout the day.” We never ended up doing it but it sounded interesting. I mean, I guess they could still probably kick you out for that, but if you were technically still eating throughout the day without stopping – and eating everything, too – then they might not kick you out.

NASIR: A lot of these places have two-hour limits or time limits as well. You mentioned Old Town Buffet or Home Country Buffet or whatever.

MATT: I think it’s Old Country Buffet.

NASIR: I recall I’ve seen a couple of eating contests amongst friends there. That’s a good place to do that. But, other than that, I’ve never heard of that challenge.

MATT: I always went to the pizza buffets – not surprising to the listeners.

NASIR: Not surprising. There’s not that many pizza buffets anymore. I know Pizza Hut used to have some.

MATT: Pizza Hut had one, I used to go there. Cici’s Pizza which is really cheap. They don’t have those in California, I don’t think.

NASIR: I’ve never heard of that.

MATT: I made myself stop going because it was getting to the point where it wasn’t really healthy for me.

NASIR: Yeah, I can imagine.

MATT: Ironically, I’m actually going to an all-you-can-eat place today for lunch.

NASIR: Report back. See what kind of policies there are. Ask, “Can I stay here for six hours and eat everything or do you have a rule against that?” I’d be interested to know.

MATT: I’m curious because the hours posted say, for lunch, they’re open from 11:30 to 2:30. I don’t know if that means they stop serving at 2:30 or if you just have to be in the doors by 2:39 and then it’s whatever you want. It’s one of those Brazilian-type places where they come around with the meat.

NASIR: Oh, yeah.

MATT: We shall see.

NASIR: First of all, I don’t care who you are. That’s usually way too much food. They keep coming. What’s bad about those places is you feel bad, you feel like you’re insulting them if you don’t take it. I went to one of those places in Brazil and I felt so pressured to keep eating and I was like, “Is it culturally bad if I say no or something?” Those are fun places, though.

MATT: What a terrible problem to have.

NASIR: I know, we’re so gluttonous.

MATT: Well, let’s get into the question of the day. I’ll just jump into it.
“I have a minor working for me who said they would work for half of what the minimum wage is. Can I legally do this?” This comes from a nursery in Palo Alto. I’m assuming that means a plant nursery but I could be wrong.

NASIR: Not to make fun but it’s just such a funny question because it’s like, “Can I pay below the minimum?” or “Can I go above the maximum speed limit?” It’s kind of the same question. That’s the reason why there’s a minimum wage in the first place.
So, what’s the answer, Matt?

MATT: Well, the answer is no, but it’s kind of pulling in two different things – (1) they’re asking you to pay less than minimum wage which you can do, and (2) they’re talking about incorporating a minor as well and they still have to get paid minimum wage. Either way you cut it, you’re going to have to pay at least minimum wage which I don’t even get the situation where a minor would want to work for that little money anyway. It’s just a weird situation.

NASIR: I think some people are thinking too, “Well, what about when I hire some kid to mow my lawn and I pay them $5.00 or something?” It takes them an hour to do. That’s different because that minor is not your employee and that minor is actually an independent contractor.
I suppose, if you really wanted to do it, then that may be one way to go, but just make sure you do it right with the advice of an attorney.

MATT: I guess that’s correct. It could cause some problems.

NASIR: I know. I’m causing problems.
Just pay a minimum wage. Just do it.

MATT: It’s not going to be that much more.

NASIR: Palo Alto, I don’t know if that’s in the San Francisco’s jurisdiction of the higher minimum wage.

MATT: That’s a good point.

NASIR: That’s something to think about.

MATT: I think they would know what the minimum wage is if they know they wanted to pay half of what it is, I would hope. Who knows?

NASIR: Very true.
All right, very good. Nice, short and sweet episode.
Thank you for joining us and don’t forget to leave some podcast reviews at iTunes.

MATT: Yes, and, as always, keep it sound and keep it smart.

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A podcast covering business in the news with a legal twist by Pasha Law PC
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Legally Sound | Smart Business covers the top business stories with a legal twist. Hosted by attorneys Nasir N. Pasha and Matt Staub of Pasha Law, Legally Sound | Smart Business is a podcast geared towards small business owners.

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