These Jamaica Plain restaurants are adding a fee to make wages more fair

The owners of Tres Gatos, Centre Street Café, and Casa Verde announced that a hospitality surcharge would be added to every bill.

At Centre Street Café is a laid-back spot serving Italian fare made with locally sourced ingredients.
At Centre Street Café is a laid-back spot serving Italian fare made with locally sourced ingredients. –The Boston Globe

In an effort to improve the widening wage gap between back-of-house employees, like cooks and other kitchen workers, and front-of-house employees, like waitresses and waiters, the owners of three Jamaica Plain restaurants have announced this week that a hospitality surcharge will be added to every customer’s bill.

Owners Keith Harmon, David Doyle, and Maricely Perez-Alers wrote an open letter to the community saying that starting December 1, 2015, they are adding a 3 percent “hospitality administrative fee’’ to all diners’ bills at Centre Street Café and Tres Gatos, in addition to a 7 percent fee and automatic 15 percent gratuity for parties of six or more or for private events. Guests may still tip as they see fit. The new business model will also apply to Casa Verde when it opens later this winter.

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The hospitality fees will go toward raises, benefits and more sustainable work schedules for back-of-house employees like cooks, who typically make about 2.5 times less than what front-of-house employees like servers make.

“What was a gap 25 years ago has become an abyss, and it will only continue to widen,’’ the team wrote. “We think that within 5 years the majority of restaurants will have adopted some measure to address this critical issue.’’

The disparity between what tipped employees and kitchen staff earns is a very separate issue from the dispute raised by restaurant worker advocates earlier this year. In March, a law was proposed that would eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, raising their pay to the standard minimum wage that workers in other industries in Massachusetts earn.

Tipped minimum wage in Massachusetts is $3, the second lowest in New England, with Rhode Island workers earning the lowest at $2.89 per hour. Still, kitchen staff make far less on average.

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While the three restaurant owners said they’ve contemplated other solutions to close the pay gap – like cutting hours, donating less to charity, and streamlining how they operate – they didn’t think any of these answers would fix the “fundamental issue’’ that tipped employees are tied to top-line revenue (how much cash diners spend at the restaurants), while back-of-house workers are tied to bottom-line results (how much in profit the restaurants make).

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This is a prevalent issue in the food industry, especially at smaller independent restaurants. Many restaurants in Boston and New York City are facing cook shortages as they struggle to lure kitchen staff unwilling to work 12 to 14 hour days for low pay.

Harmon, Doyle, and Perez-Alers hope their change will help stave off this problem at their restaurants, and usher in a better method for compensating line cooks.

“We’re tired of feeling like our kitchen staff are second class citizens,’’ the team wrote. “We’re tired of knowing that they would be financially better off bussing tables or working at a chain restaurant. We need to hitch (at least part of) their star to top line revenue if we want to correct the disparity.’’

[h/t Boston Magazine]

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September 25, 2017 | 8:42 AM