For Cohen, it was not only about challenging the very concept of tipping, which she described as “inherently racist and sexist,” but also about attracting and keeping workers. “Everyone gives the impression that the difficulties in finding staff are a post-pandemic problem,” she said. “But it was also real before the pandemic, especially in New York. “
His new system was expensive. Ms Cohen says that despite enthusiastic reviews and hard-to-get bookings, she has often barely reached breakeven point. Profits hovered around 1%, she said. “We were still on the verge of collapse.”
The pandemic has changed that. Like many restaurateurs, Ms. Cohen has streamlined her menu, serving a three-course tasting instead of the five or 10 previously offered. Less choice has dramatically reduced her food costs and the number of people needed to prepare the complex dishes she’s known for, like an eggplant tiramisu served with a dash of cotton candy.
Today, Dirt Candy offers a single five-course menu and starts all employees at $ 25 an hour. Last month, its profits reached 5%, Ms. Cohen said. “The only way for me to pay fairly was to start running a better business,” she added. “It’s not the restaurant I dreamed of having, but it’s the one that works.
Some restaurants that aren’t ready to take the plunge into a new pay structure are tweaking the edges, offering additional perks and less exhausting hours. Ellen Yin, partner of the Philadelphia-based High Street Hospitality Group, has long offered a health plan, but will soon add one with lower premiums and a student debt reduction program. This month, Jason Berry, founder of Knead Hospitality, a restaurant group in Washington, DC, will begin introducing a four-day work week for managers at its restaurants.
Mr Berry proposed the change in schedule – four 12-hour days instead of five 11-hour shifts – after losing two valuable long-time employees this summer. One quit to sell wine, the other to follow a dream and write children’s books.