Vermont restaurant looks to boost kitchen staff pay with 'service charge'

When people talk about wages in the restaurant industry, it's pretty safe to say that most people are thinking of the face of the restaurant -- the servers. The men and women who they interact directly to get their meals and weigh their overall experience against (for better or worse). Very rarely do people think of the folks cooking their meals behind the scenes.

But out of the two groups, it's the back of house staff that could use more of the pay bump. According to the NYC Hospitality Alliancethe median hourly wage for servers at $25.34 while line cooks earn just a median of $13.

Getting half the pay as their front of house counterparts puts the kitchen workers on a lower level of importance, which is silly since the serving staff have nothing to serve without them. It's a more symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic one, but the pay gap doesn't reflect that at all.

That gap is also why more line-cooks are bailing the kitchen to become servers or for entirely different industries where pay is higher. It's becoming a real issue to keep talented cooks around. Bad food is a quick way to score a horrible Yelp review and see your doors close for the final time.

In short: you need to keep your kitchen staff in your employ.

Of course, it's not so simple as just giving your kitchen workers all nice raises. You need the money for it right? 

In Boston, two restaurants have gone unconventional routes to keep their best kitchen workers in their employ, by offering a tuition reimbursement program and a strong training regiment. In LA, another restaurant started adding two tip lines on bills -- one for the servers and one for the kitchen staff.

Kitchen service charge

A restaurant in Vermont is trying a different method. Waterworks Food and Drink has implemented a 2% service charge that'll go directly to back-of-house employees, according to WPTZ. This is the restaurants workaround against the federal law prohibiting tip pools being used between severs and kitchen staff.

The restaurant's owner, David Abdoo, opted for the service charge route because he didn't want to raise menu prices and lose his share of the market, he said. He still wanted his kitchen staff to get their fair share.

"We're able to say to them, we appreciate what you're doing, we know how hard you're working," Abdoo said.

The extra money, of course, has been greatly appreciated by the kitchen staff and customers don't seem to mind too much that the surcharge is going directly to the kitchen.

We've seen restaurants use service charges before, but it was as a replacement for tipping and not something being used as a way to boost back-of-house staffs' pay. 

Are you doing anything unique to bridge the wage gap between front and back of house? Let us know in the comments below or email us!