A new restaurant in Philadelphia won’t allow customers to tip its waitstaff. Instead, it plans to pay employees a living wage with generous benefits.
By Bryce Covert, www.nationofchange.org
Chef Brian Oliveira and co-owner Cristian Mora of Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie, set to open at the end of the month, told ThinkProgress that while wages will vary depending on workers’ experience, they will average about $13 an hour. “On all our other interviews we had said $11,” Mora said, “but we are going to do better than that.” On top of that, all employees — whether full time or part time — will get four paid vacation days for every six months they work as well as some paid sick days that haven’t been determined yet. The restaurant will also pay 100 percent of the cost of health care benefits.
These benefits stand out in the industry, where median pay for a waiter is less than $9 an hour and the minimum wage for tipped workers like waiters is just $2.13. Restaurant workers experience a poverty rate nearly triple that for everyone else.
They also stand out because they are being paid in lieu of servers collecting tips. Oliveira and Mora didn’t want to buy into that system. “We’ve worked in those positions and relied on those tips,” Oliveira said, experiencing “slower nights and bad sections or getting stiffed.” The two had also heard of some of the other restaurants that have gone the route of paying higher wages and banning tips. “That really is what inspired us,” he said.
The plan also came from a place of “wanting to take care of the people that are going to be taking care of the guests,” he said. “In order for the employee to have a genuine interaction with a guest, they have to be happy at work, so we had to change the environment.”
But the two don’t just expect the plan to benefit the employees. It will also benefit the restaurant. It will result in “less turnover, more knowledgeable staff,” Oliveira said, which will “result in a better product and better service.”
They’ve already been able to attract a different set of applicants. “In the restaurant industry, you never know how much you’re going to make,” Mora said. But at Girard, “you know how much you’re going to make, it’s more like other professions. So it’s attracted more stable people, so I think we’re going to have more stability in our staff.” That should lower turnover, which “in restaurants is one of the highest unspoken costs,” he added.
Oliveira also pointed out that while the common assumption is that people in the restaurant industry are just college and high school students in temporary jobs, that’s shifted and many are trying to make careers. “We’re attracting people who want to expand their career in the restaurant industry, it’s not just a short-term thing,” he said. That will also mean less turnover and a more highly-skilled staff.
The two think the model of banning tips and paying better can spread. And it seems to have caught on in a few places around the country. Two high-end sushi restaurants and other high-end eateries in New York City have gone that route, as did a high-end restaurant on the West Coast. It’s also cropped up at a brewpub in Washington, D.C. and a meat-based restaurant in Kentucky.
Tipping doesn’t just create unpredictability in workers’ lives — the majority of Americans leave less than the standard 20 percent and 11 percent leave nothing at all. It also perpetuates discrimination. The quality of service only accounts for a percentage point or so in the size of a tip. Instead, it’s more likely to be influenced on whether a server is an attractive woman or white.