If you’re a restaurant owner, you’ve probably got the following problems: Despite a rise in the minimum wage, your cooks, dishwashers, and other back-of-house staff — the backbone of your business — are painfully underpaid, leading to high turnover. Food and labor costs are up, tightening margins. You can’t raise prices past the threshold of what customers are willing to pay in order to raise salaries. And you can’t share tips between the front-of-house staff and those in the kitchen. (An amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed last year, allows for tip sharing, but particularities of New York State labor laws still prohibit the practice.)
In January 2018, Westchester restaurateur David DiBari found an innovative solution, instituting a kitchen-share surcharge at his Dobbs Ferry restaurants, The Cookery and The Parlor, to address the industry-standard earnings inequities between front-of-house staff (servers, bartenders, bus persons, etc.) and those in the kitchen. DiBari is currently the only Westchester restaurant owner using this policy. Clearly stated on the bottom of his menus, the policy allows for a 3% surcharge on food sales, listed as a line item on customers’ bills, to benefit kitchen workers.
Photo by Michael Polito
DiBari based his system on the one Westport restaurateur Bill Taibe uses at his restaurants, Kawi Ni, Jessup Hall, and The Whelk. “This three percent affects customers much less than raising prices, and it incentivizes the crew to get more money in their pockets, which they deserve,” DiBari says.
Back-of-house staff at DiBari’s restaurants, which now include The Rare Bit in Dobbs Ferry and Port Chester’s Eugene’s, have seen a roughly 18-20% increase in taxable income as a result. Customers have been generally supportive of the increase, as has the front-of-house staff. “[We were concerned:] What if the waiters get tipped less because people are paying extra?” says DiBari. “It actually worked out the opposite. The servers are behind it because they know we’re working together to make a better product and a better restaurant.”