Credit Claims For Boston Restaurant Workers: Legal Strategies For Income Stability – After years of artificially low menu prices, service charges seem an inevitable, annoying part of eating out now
Amy McCarthy is a writer at , focusing on pop culture, politics and work, and just the weirdest online trends.
Credit Claims For Boston Restaurant Workers: Legal Strategies For Income Stability
If you’re the type of diner who regularly eats at restaurants, you’ve almost certainly noticed a “service charge” attached to your check at one establishment or another. These fees, which can range from 3 percent to 20 percent of your total bill, are increasingly ubiquitous as the cost of doing business becomes more expensive for restaurants. They are also endlessly complicated, both for the diners who pay for them and the employees who are supposed to benefit from them. Now, the fees have inspired a lawsuit at Los Angeles hot spot Jon & Vinny.
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To make the case for service fees, many restaurateurs insisted they were a way to make pay more equitable between front-line workers like hosts and servers and kitchen workers like line cooks and dishwashers. Many of the restaurateurs who started charging service fees did so as a way to get rid of the notoriously unfair tipping system altogether — or because their attempts to eliminate service fees by raising menu prices failed. And many, including industry heavyweights like Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, have been unable to make the no-inclination model work due to personal departures over lower front-of-house pay, customer sticker shock, or both. The service charge, as Benu’s Corey Lee said a few years ago, is a bridge: “The idea of a ‘tip’ is so ingrained in American dining culture that most diners are not ready for service-inclusive pricing,” Lee said. back in 2019. “So we’re splitting it up for them as a separate charge so they can see what’s going on.”
But many restaurant workers say these service charges benefit restaurant owners more than actually improving wage equality in these establishments. In June, a group of servers at Los Angeles’ popular Italian restaurant Jon & Vinny’s filed a lawsuit, claiming they don’t actually benefit from the restaurant’s 18 percent service charge. The lawsuit also claims the charge is confusing to customers, many of whom believe the service fee is there instead of a traditional tip. In response to the lawsuit, the owners of Jon & Vinny’s denied the servers’ claims, and told the
A November 2022 receipt from Jon & Vinny’s, reviewed by , is printed with a lengthy disclaimer that the 18 percent service charge it charges is not a tip, and “enables the restaurant to provide fair wages to all of our employees.” (The
Quoted a line cook who said the fee resulted in his earning above minimum wage.) Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Jon & Vinny updated the disclosure on their receipts, and servers say the new wording made little difference to diners. And while the goal of pay equity, as explained on the receipt, is noble, it’s probably a stretch to assume that customers, stuffed with pasta and natural wine, spend significant amounts of time reading the fine print at the bottom of their receipt; the servers say diners tip less or nothing. But that’s the fundamental problem with both fees and service fees: Restaurants are one of the only industries in which customers are responsible for ensuring that all workers in an establishment are paid an overall fair wage.
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Whether or not you actually buy the servers’ argument in the lawsuit, one thing is abundantly clear: Service fees are really confusing for customers. It is not unreasonable for diners to believe that something called a “service charge” would be compensation for the person who prepares their food, serves them and cleans up after them, even if that is not always the case. And considering how many people in general are just terrible cheaters, it’s perhaps not surprising that some of them balk at the idea of paying an extra 15 or 20 percent to the server on top of that 18 percent that, oops!, might go. to the owners of the restaurant.
What’s worse is that many states do not regulate restaurant service fees, which means that how that money is spent is often left entirely up to restaurant owners. In all but a few states, they are not required to use service fee revenue to pay better wages to anyone on the restaurant, servers or kitchen staff. In fact, it’s been reported that some restaurants have used the fees as a way to pay their bills, or offset fees charged by credit card processing companies, while others have legitimately used the money to pay for benefits like health insurance (some restaurants even list). draw a separate health surcharge).
Restaurants are one of the only industries in which customers are responsible for ensuring that all workers in an establishment are paid an overall fair wage.
Fairer pay in the restaurant industry is obviously desirable, but it doesn’t appear that unregulated, opaque service fees have much of a proven track record when it comes to achieving that goal. In fact, service fees may be a mere cash grab, an extension of our wider culture that is riddled with junk fees. We’ve already accepted so many fees and terms and conditions in every other aspect of our lives, what’s one more?
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It’s true that restaurant owners are currently in a no-win scenario. Costs continue to rise, and customers will not tolerate price increases at the same rate. But one reason it’s so challenging to raise prices is that they’ve been artificially low for so long. At some point, restaurants will have to come clean to their customers about what the food we buy from them really costs. Fees – imperfect and confusing at best, a cynical marketing ploy at worst – aren’t exactly a great way to build customer loyalty. It’s also hard to get people to really understand how thin the margins are in the restaurant industry when they’re constantly being fudged to make prices seem more palatable to customers.
Any change to the upside structure of the industry must be a matter of collective action. By itself, just one restaurant – even one powerful restaurant group – plan to drastically raise prices and offer its own pay scales is doomed to failure. There must be some sort of regulatory solution: in the extremely unlikely end, restaurants in the US could abolish the fee entirely, allowing restaurants to set pay scales that attract and retain talent just as other businesses do, making a profit by selling their dishes. at appropriate marking. More likely, we could pass legislation that creates a legal obligation for restaurants to be transparent with customers and workers about the fees they charge, or even govern what additional fees are allowed at all (perhaps the law allows fees to be used to pay equity, but not credit card fees, for example). Some local governments have tried to create these structures, but the results have been uneven. As Recode notes, in New York, all service fees must be directed to waiters, while Florida restaurants are free to spend service fees charged to customers as they see fit.
However they are charged, what we can be sure of is that service fees aren’t going away, and they probably aren’t top of mind for most lawmakers these days. But all the restaurants already implementing these extra charges could at least be more honest about what that money is going to. If the fee is the result of inflation, call it an “inflation fee”. If management uses the money to establish pay equity between front-of-house and back-of-house workers, call it a “pay equity fee,” and explain to your customers what that means in a way that’s much more comprehensive than a few words on the bottom of a receipt.
The end result – a higher total bill – is the same, it’s just that those extra dollars are a little easier to stomach when you understand why you’re being asked to pay more. Any decent person who loves restaurants would want the people who cook their dinner, wash their dishes and serve their plates to be paid a fair wage. Until diners are ready to adapt to a world in which a bowl of pasta is bluntly listed at $25 on menus at even neighborhood restaurants, we’ll just have to keep finding ways to ease the pain of death by a thousand fees. See fish. Eat fish. Enjoy ocean-side dining just steps from the New England Aquarium. Our restaurant could not be more convenient to the Financial District, Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall and waterfront hotels such as the Boston Harbor Hotel, Marriott and Intercontinental. Long Wharf is home port for many cruise ships and whale watches, while Duck Tours and Old Town Trolleys see the sights and then stop for seafood right outside our door. We think a visit to Boston should include a meal at Legal Sea Foods. If you are looking for