LA Restaurant Hits Customers Up For Kitchen Staff Tips

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If you think restaurant tipping lets owners underwrite the real labor costs of wait staff, get ready: you may become the unexpected sugar parent for the cooks. The Los Angeles restaurant Alimento has added a check tip line for kitchen staff, a possible industry first, according to Los Angeles Magazine.

Chef Zach Pollack recently opened the well-reviewed establishment with a cross between northern Italian and California cuisines, as LAWeekly described it. But already the eatery has developed a reputation for charging patrons extra. Pollack charges customers $1.50 a head for unlimited sparkling or still water, donating the amount to the Silver Lake Reservoir Conservancy, a non-profit that works to preserve local waters.

Now it seems that Pollack is looking for a different type of donation, although it's more voluntary. He told LA Mag of recently losing two of his top line cooks to other restaurants that paid more.

"They couldn't make it work on their end, and I couldn't make it work on mine--this is a small restaurant," he says. "But at the same time, the servers are walking away with a lot of money. That's great, but it put an issue in the spotlight that I've been aware of for a while."


As Pollock said, cooks tell themselves that low-paying jobs early on--think less than $10 an hour--help build a resume and potential for the future. But that doesn't help put food on your own table, even as you're making sure a waiter can put food on someone else's.

So he added a second tip line for the kitchen, hoping that people will add a few dollars for the back of the house staff, not just the waiters. As Los Angeles Eater notes, that gives guests the option to split a tip between both groups, award it strictly to the kitchen if the waiters screw up, or only tip the servers if the cooking was subpar. Whether people tip in total the same amount as they always have or spend more is yet to be seen.

Pollock's idea is to level the playing fields between the front of house, which becomes the face of a restaurant, and the back of the house, where chefs and cooks work in hot and demanding conditions to turn out food as nearly perfect as possible.

It's not the first time that restaurant owners have looked to customers to explicitly subsidize certain costs of doing business. Some have added surcharges to cover healthcare mandates.

Although Pollock would love to see this idea spread, it might be tough in many areas. In California, tipped workers are still entitled to a minimum wage of $9 an hour, according to Minimum-Wage.org. However, federal law says that tipped workers can be paid a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, and many states either default to that amount or treat such workers as a special class that doesn't qualify for full minimum wage. Giving cooks a cut of tips might mean they would suddenly lose the protection of full local minimum wage.

Plus, what happens if someone leaves a cash tip? Do they have to fill out a form specifying the split and trust that it happens?

If anything, the answer Pollock seeks may be anything other than alimentary--in more ways than one.
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