A new way to pay restaurant staff in Santa Fe BK

Brooklyn Restaurant trains staff and provides revenue sharing for staff not eligible for tips.

Zagat Stories presents Restaurants 21/22, a collection of interviews with leading voices from the fields of catering, hospitality, gastronomy, technology, politics and more. Each story takes the turn of the calendar as an inflection point to consider what happened in 2021, or what is likely to happen in 2022, in the restaurant and food world. See all the stories here. And don’t hesitate to take a look at last year’s collection as well.

Melissa Klein and her husband John Watterberg opened Santa Fe BK in Williamsburg as a tribute to their love for each other (they met in a now closed Williamsburg location called Santa Fe years ago) and their dedication to the food industry. After a life spent both in the backyard and at home, the couple are committed to focusing on the well-being of the staff as much as on the customers and the food. Santa Fe BK uses a tip model that relies on involving employees in all aspects of the operation, from washing dishes to waiting tables, to delivery, and more.

We know there is a lot of unfairness in the restaurant business, which causes a lot of resentment. In a lot of places my husband and I have worked, it was like ‘Let’s all be equal players and don’t have a division between the front and the back of the house’. But how can you be equal players if you earn such different salaries doing different jobs?

When the pandemic happened, we had a year to really think and discuss it, and try to figure out how to make the future better for everyone. We’ve decided that 8% of our sales will go to employees, so it’s going to be kind of a revenue sharing situation.

Since we are currently only operating as a take out business, we have also adjusted the compensation model. Our staff is so limited that we have trained everyone in both managerial and managerial positions so that we are legally allowed to share any tips. It works so well.

John and I take turns in different positions. We work the door, the dishes station, even do the preparation and the cooking. And when we are working we don’t get any tips so they are distributed among the rest of the staff which is just great. Including the $ 18 an hour we pay them, our staff earn between $ 20 and $ 30 an hour.

John Watterberg and Melissa Klein in Santa Fe BK. Photo: Emily Schindler.

Once dinner service begins and working in different positions becomes less feasible, we will implement 8% revenue sharing for all back-of-house positions. The front of the house will be paid $ 12 per hour and form part of the tip reserve, while the rear of the house will receive $ 18 and 8% of sales. Anyone who receives a salary will not be part of any tip pool or the 8% share. But depending on our success, we will also be open to bonuses for these employees.

I think the staff love it. The money is great, and they get to work in new positions. Everyone understands how other people’s day is going because we’ve all been there. I think it does a lot for morale. And everyone is invested in being busy, so when we are, it creates a kind of buzzing excitement in the air that it’s a lot of fun to work with. Some people have different levels of comfort in interacting with customers, and that’s been a problem, so we’ve found ways around it. Some staff prefer to perform less interactive tasks in the room, such as preparing the take-out station and packing orders for customers. We want everyone to be happy by making sure they get paid well, but we also want no one to feel uncomfortable with being asked.

Because it takes so long to get our liquor license and therefore completely open, we have more staff than we have shifts right now. We hired for what we thought would be an opening in September or October. Most of our people want to work here full time, but we just don’t have enough shifts for everyone. So far, we have been very fortunate that they have granted us the grace of their understanding and have stayed with us while we are in alcohol limbo.

It is sometimes a challenge to keep the faith, but we try to focus on the things under our control. We always knew we didn’t want to open until we got our liquor license because our margarita program is an integral part of the kitchen. In addition, our entire front room is a giant bar.

I think customers know this industry is tough, and they appreciate that we’re trying to bring something new to the table, both in terms of food and restructuring typical restaurant payment models. I’m surprised how many people mention it when ordering at the window. We get a lot of “we love what you’re trying to do here” and “we’ve seen your Instagram pay post, right now!” “

Santa Fe BK in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo: Emily Schindler.

I don’t think this system will necessarily be feasible across the industry in this very specific way. We calculated the numbers. We do not serve scallops and truffles. We keep our food costs very low, modest, accessible and affordable so that we have more money to spend on the people who help make our dreams come true.

If we were just eliminating tips and paying our staff more, we should be charging people an arm and a leg for everything they order, and I don’t think it’s fair to pass that cost on to customers when they do. are not used to this pricing model. People come to enjoy the food and know they don’t have to pay that much money.

The New York City policy of not allowing office workers to take tips should be abolished. I think if you talk to your customer on a daily basis and ask them if they would accept their tip money going to everyone who worked so hard to bring them this meal and lovely service, they would definitely want it. happen. It is an archaic rule that must change.

We need to find new ways to make the restaurant industry work. It’s a good time to do it because everything comes back new and different, and people can try different approaches. With enough creativity, we can come up with something that will work for everyone.

If we didn’t have hope for the future, we wouldn’t be doing this. Especially with the response we got from the neighborhood and the people who frequent the facility, people want it to work. We will collectively find a way to make it work and make it fair to the people.



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