As COVID-19 promises to transform almost all aspects of the restaurant industry, the inequity of gratuity-based compensation is once again at the forefront of some Hudson Valley restaurateurs’ minds. In New York State, labor laws prevent front-of-house employees who provide direct service to customers, like waitstaff, bartenders, and bussers, from sharing tips with the chefs, cooks, and dishwashers in the back of house.
“A waiter can open a $100 bottle of wine and get tipped 18 to 20 percent, but he didn’t do anything extra. The kitchen guy doesn’t have that luxury,” says David DiBari, chef and owner of The Cookery and The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry, as well as the recently opened Bus at Salinger’s Orchard in Brewster. Since 2018, DiBari’s restaurants have added a 3% “Kitchen Share” fee to diners’ bills to bridge the pay gap.
At Bia in Rhinebeck, the pandemic incentivized owner Kyle Kelley to eliminate tipping in favor of an automatic 20% service charge. “We didn’t want to ask tipped workers to come back for $7.50 an hour, risking their health and the health of their families during a pandemic,” explains Kelley. “This model guarantees some measure of income security, regardless of how busy it may be on a given night. We are asking our staff to follow all sorts of new protocols. A higher hourly wage is commensurate with those duties.”
When Chef Constantine Kalandranis rebranded 8 North Broadway in Nyack and 273 Kitchen in Harrison to The Greekish meze bar, he also eliminated tipping. The front-of-house staff is now comprised of four managers, who earn higher wages. Optional gratuities go into a bonus-and-promotion fund. “Everyone gets paid well,” says Kalandranis. “The bonus program [helps cover the cost] if they get a promotion or paid vacation.”