Thursday, March 05, 2009

the recession, thomas keller , and frank bruni

I had it on word a couple weeks ago that the French Laundry had started calling concierges in the city to let them know that Laundry reservations were available for interested clientele. Today SF Eater posted a link to an opentable Laundry resy.

In the diners journal today as well, Frank Bruni mentioned that Per Se isn't doing two full turns these days.

Ominous times upon us all. Do go the the Laundry or Per Se, if you haven't. Absolutely incredible.

In a related NYT aside, Bruni has posted several articles recently about tipping in the service industry. Personally, I tend to tip 20%, minimum 18%, unless something is wrong. Bruni's point today is that restaurants don't pay their employees enough, so it's the customer's contractual obligation to tip so that the server earns a living wage. Californians aside--where servers and bartenders make minimum wage of not more (quite often, actually, they make the same as your local line cook)--that is true. Servers do not make a living wage. But you know what, Frank Bruni? Cooks don't make a living wage. Hosts don't make a living wage. Neither do bussers, dishwashers, barbacks, baristas, night porters or sous chefs. And while the servers do tip out the bussers and the bar staff and sometimes even the dishwasher, the entire back of the house is scraping by.

Twice that I can recall some generous patron at the fancy restaurant tipped out the kitchen. At the East Coast Grille, diners have the option of buying a 6 pack of PBR for the line. at the Bi-Rite Creamery, all tips are split with the kitchen.

While it's true that a server's hourly wage isn't enough to live on, at the end of the day any front of house employee is making more money (per hour, per week, per year) than most back of house employees. If restaurants were to start passing the cost of paying a livable wage onto the customer with higher entree costs (and if you're getting good meat, it's expensive. for the curious, dessert is a great food cost item because butter and sugar and, yes, even chocolate, are a lot cheaper to turn into a $9 dessert than a good cut of lamb is to turn into a $25 entree), a nation of diners would rise up in protest. I am sure of it.

What would your $25 entree really be worth if every person who contributed, from the farmer all the way to the server, were paid a livable wage, and benefits?


MB said...

I like the new look!

Great point you make about back of house wages. I admit I hadn't really thought of that before.

Brian said...

I hadn't given it much thought, either. That's a mind-numbing point about everyone from farm to table making a fair wage. Thanks for making it.

so much cake so little time said...

thanks people -

yeah...until I worked on a farm I hadn't thought about how when you're selling organic broccoli for $2/head, you're buying the cost of the seeds, labor, transportation, housing for the farmworker, hundreds of hours of care, etc. and someone is supposed to make a profit on this? and our government subsidizes mostly corn and soy crops in the midwest?

i could go on for a while...dios mio.

so much cake so little time said...

oh, and welcome Brian...I thought you were a *different* food blogger Brian.

Carri said...

Years ago, I helped run a little bistro and we paid front of the house and back of the house basically the same and all tips were pooled and divided into the total hours worked and distributed evenly amongst the crew...I reaaly liked it, though the bookeeping was no fun!