Is Revenue-Sharing the Secret to Closing the Wage Gap Between Tipped and Nontipped Restaurant Employees?

Restaurants on the East and West Coasts are experimenting with higher prices and additional fees to boost kitchen workers’ pay.




Back-of-the-kitchen workers produce the food that makes the money, but servers have traditionally out-earned them. Revenue-sharing models could change that, if they catch on.

 

Some restaurants in the Boston area are experimenting with a new remedy to an old problem: the wage gap between tipped and non-tipped employees. Eateries like Mamaleh’s Delicatessen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Tres Gatos, Centre Street Café and Casa Verde, all in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, are using revenue-sharing to help put more cash in their kitchen workers’ pockets.

According to NPR.org, Mamaleh’s, a Jewish delicatessen, has experimented with raising its prices and doling out 5% of its food sales to its kitchen staff. Meanwhile, Keith Harmon, co-owner of the three Jamaica Plains restaurants, adds a 3% “hospitality administration fee” to all sales, with proceeds going to kitchen workers. Before, Harmon’s tipped employees earned 2 ½ times more than back-of-the-house employees, but the pay gap has been cut by a third. “We didn’t want to alienate the tipped staff to take care of the nontipped staff, and so we came up with this pennies-on-the-dollar approach,” Harmon told NPR.org.

Sharokina Shams, vice president of communications for the California Restaurant Association, said revenue sharing is becoming “the emerging new norm” in the Bay area, too. Better wages for back-of-house staff could also reduce turnover and ensure consistency of product in the kitchen.

But how are customers reacting to the higher prices? The NPR article only quotes one, a Mamaleh’s guest who said he’d be willing to pay even more to support the policy. “I’m happy to pay another 20%—no, really, I mean it,” Dan Meyers told NPR.org. “It’s a great thing, and it shows that the people running the place—it’s not just lip service. They actually care about their people.”

 

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