The week that was (19 November 2015)

Soap box:

- Danny Meyer’s “Hospitality Included” no tipping policy starts at Modern today in NYC. This has been splashed across the papers for a few weeks now and, while it is acutely American, the struggle to pay restaurant staff appropriately is not. The below comes from a melange of articles (links included):

Legally all tips in New York are the sole property of the wait staff and thus can not be re-distributed to the kitchen. This has seen the disparity between front and back of house wages grow. According to Meyer over the past 30 years “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25 percent. Meanwhile, dining room pay has gone up 200 percent.” In the Oz they note “At one point his restaurant North End Grill had more Culinary Institute of America graduates working as waiters than in the kitchen.” Meyer decided to kill the disparity he had to kill the tips.

Of course to supplement the wages he has put up the food prices (not a simple 20% across the board, with lobster up by $10, crab fritters by $1 and the truffle actually dropping by $10). A ballsy move, but he is assuring his customers the total bill will remain pretty much the same.

The change is all about paying staff more. The thought that has gone into this scheme is fascinating (it’s definitely worth reading this great article on Eater if you are a business owner in the industry). Of particular interest is his revenue share program, which is how he plans to compensate the wait staff. It will be calculated on the restaurant’s weekly revenue (weekly to avoid people chasing the most lucrative shifts) and has promised to reap the same financial benefits as the tipping system. This will link employees to the restaurant’s financial performance, as it is now directly tied to their compensation, but also ideally making the restaurant more profitable.

But the buck doesn't stop there. Next step for Meyer is the inevitable online payments, an Uber type system that he feels could bring back customer opinion. "What if we could retain the consumer’s ability to praise or punish or just remark, and make it a fun game?" Meyer has no plans to create this interface, instead, he’s hoping whoever ends up being "the dominant player in what he calls the "wild west" of mobile payments will help speak to his needs.”
- In Lucky Peach, they were also questioning the future of the industry from a financial rather than artistic perspective. Jason Hammel notes “Food you make and grow for yourself should be cheap. Food made by others shouldn’t be—at any level. The street-food cart should support its cooks just as much as the local bistro should.” He throws up a few suggestions, including price scaled by peak times, government support etc, but settles on collaboration: “The question of where we are going is not just an artistic question … It requires all of us. I’d like to learn about models in other countries ... about new ideas for efficiencies and for the motivation of staff.”

- Of course, many restaurants still lean on the free labour of the stagiaire (Noma, for example, has more stagiaires than paid employees). This article in the Guardian looks at the experience of six stagiaires around the world and provides some lovely insights. "... the whole exercise can cost thousands of pounds – but when weighed against the skills and creativity they hope to acquire, and the prestige that comes from working in a world-famous kitchen, many deem it worthwhile.”

- Don’t think that copying the team at Noma is going to bring you the spoils. If you need convincing on that front, read this article about the “long lingering death of the edible lecture” (ie new Nordic cuisine).

- Finally, for a completely different spin on how you can make some cash in this game, check out Nuno Mendes’ crowd funded campaign to build his “world-class destination restaurant.” He’s seeking investors on the crowd-sourced Seedrs site and has added perks beyond the shares (priority booking etc etc). There’s a vid of his vision if you want to watch, and a £1,400,000 gap if you want to get involved.

- For something a little closer to home check out the Gurandgi Munje Pozible campaign. It’s all about "sowing the seed for Aboriginal agriculture" and is aimed at giving a financial leg up to Gurandgi Munjie, a group of Aboriginal men and women determined to recover the traditional food plants of their culture, for wider, public consumption. Of course this kind of support is of critical importance to the future of Australian food production and environmental protection. It’s supported by Rootstock Sydney. Come down next weekend if you want to learn more.