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L.A. Restaurant First To Add Tip Line On Checks For Kitchen Staff And Cooks

Alimento receipt with added gratuity line for kitchen staff (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine)
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A Silver Lake restaurant may be the first in the nation to add a separate gratuity line to checks that go straight to kitchen staff and cooks.Zach Pollack, who also co-owns Sotto, began implementing his new tips system at Alimento on Tuesday. According to Los Angeles Magazine, it looks like his restaurant is the first to do it.

To give his diners a better understanding of this revolutionary plan, when the check is handed out to the guest, it's accompanied by a card that reads:

Rather than imposing a mandatory ‘service fee’ or ‘kitchen surcharge’ as many are doing, we’d like to leave the choice in your, the diner’s, hands. If you’re perfectly happy with tipping as usual, there’s no need for you to do anything differently. But, if you’d like to send a little love to the lads and ladies hustling in the back, we’d be honored to provide you the means to do so. All such tips will go to line cooks and other kitchen staff; no one in management will participate.

Currently, state law prohibits cooks and back-of-the-house staff to share tips with servers, according to the L.A. Times. Alimento's kitchen tips would go to their dishwashers, line cooks and prep cooks; Pollack and his sous chefs won't be getting a cut of it.

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Other L.A. eateries like Republique, Melisse and AOC have also been changing up the way restaurant staff is getting tipped. Over the last year, they've been adding a 3% surcharge on checks that go toward their employees' health insurance. According to the Times:

The healthcare surcharge, the restaurant owners insist, isn't a political statement, but a way to offer valuable benefits to employees while maintaining their profits, which are slim even at the most successful establishments.

Pollack seems to have the same issue. He told Los Angeles Magazine about two line cooks who left his restaurant to work for higher-paying jobs. "They couldn’t make it work on their end, and I couldn’t make it work on mine—this is a small restaurant,” he said. “But at the same time, the servers are walking away with a lot of money. That’s great, but it put an issue in the spotlight that I’ve been aware of for a while.”'

But should the diner be the one guilted into paying more when we're already paying for an experience? As customers, we assume that the operations of running a restaurant, save for front of house servers, are worked into the menu prices.

Yet according to the Food Chain Workers Alliance, 32% of the nation's food workers suffer from food insecurity—meaning they don't make enough income to provide nutritional, safe food for themselves or their families.

And even though they might get a staff meal while working a shift or enjoy a "beer for the kitchen" that's listed on many menus for customers to order these days, that doesn't solve the underlying problem that restaurant workers face off the clock. The minimum wage is now $9/hour in California, slightly higher than the national average of $7.25, but it's not enough to support the cost of living.

So perhaps it's not a bad idea to tip the kitchen staff instead of sending them a cold one. At least it's a temporary fix to a flawed system.