Small businesses wonder how they'll cope with a $15 minimum wage

She says she’s already paying her non-tipped kitchen employees above the $7.25 minimum, between $10 and $12. “I would absolutely love to pay them all $15 an hour, but if I was forced to do that overnight, I don’t know how Henny Penny would survive,” she said.

But there is good news for her and other small-business owners in the often-overlooked details of the current proposal: Its increases come in five annual increments, stretching from this June until June 2025.

The Democrats’ proposal does, however, get rid of the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. So Ms. Jenkins would indeed have to pay workers who are eligible for tips a base of $15 per hour by 2025, regardless of how much extra they earn from customers.

Thinking of compromises, Ms. Jenkins wondered aloud whether the size of a business should make a difference in how wage increases are rolled out. “You’ve got to allow businesses under 500 employees to be more nimble,” she said. “Once you’re over 500 employees,” like many regional chains and multinational corporations, “I feel like you have ways of building backup capital to maintain those payrolls.”