For Ms. Cohen, this was an effort not only to challenge the notion of tipping, which she called “inherently racist and sexist”, but also to attract and retain workers. “Everyone is making it seem like the difficulties in finding staff are a post-pandemic issue,” he said. “But it was real before the pandemic, especially in New York.”
His new system was costly. Ms. Cohen, however, enthusiastic comments and hard-to-achieve reservations were often barely even-handed. Profits hovered about 1 percent, he said. “We were always swinging on the verge of collapse.”
The pandemic has changed that. Like many restaurateurs, Ms. Cohen has modernized her menu by offering three-course tastings instead of the five or 10 previously offered. Fewer options drastically reduced food costs and the number of people required to prepare familiar complex dishes, like the eggplant tiramisu served with a cloud of cotton candy.
Today, Dirt Candy only offers a five-course menu and starts at $25 an hour for all employees. Ms. Cohen said her profits reached 5 percent last month. “The only way I could get paid fairly was to start running a better business,” he added. “Not the restaurant I dreamed of having, but a functioning restaurant.”
Some restaurants that aren’t ready to transition to a new fare structure are fine-tuning the edges to offer additional benefits and less strenuous schedules. Ellen Yin, a Philadelphia-based partner High Street Hospitality Grouphas long offered a health plan, but will soon add a lower premium plan and a student debt reduction program. This month, co-founder Jason Berry Knead the hospitalityA restaurant group in Washington, DC will begin offering a four-day workweek for their restaurant’s managers.
After losing two valuable long-time employees this summer, Mr. Berry has proposed a schedule change – four 12-hour workdays instead of five 11-hour shifts. One resigned to sell wine, the other to follow a dream and write children’s books.