Over the past couple of years some restaurants in Boston have begun to add an optional 3% service fee onto diners’ checks, referred to by some as a “kitchen appreciation fee.” The intention here is to begin to bridge the wage gap between the front of house and back of house staff. Some of the restaurants you can find it at include: Sweet Cheeks Q, Yvonne’s, Bar Mezanna, Night Market, Brassica Kitchen + Cafe, Mamaleh’s, State Park, Tres Gatos, Casa Verde, and Centre Street Cafe. This is not the same as the surcharge fee that some restaurants are tacking on to cover employee’s benefits such as insurance.
When the managers at the restaurant I work at first brought this idea up to the staff I was not too optimistic about how the public would respond to it. I was enthusiastic about the idea and equally as hesitant about having to deal with customers’ adverse reactions to it. To my great surprise I have had far more people leave positive feedback about it than negative. The people who ask for it removed, which is rare, and who complain about it are mostly the same people who are going to act miserable in your restaurant anyway even when nothing goes wrong. We can’t let those people drag us down. I feel proud to be a part of an establishment that has the courage to unapologetically implement the 3% service charge to benefit their hard-working employees.
I have worked in restaurants, in all different positions, for the past seven years and I have seen how hard everyone in the back of the house works while not getting appropriately compensated. No matter how busy the restaurant is they always get the same flat rate of pay. The 3% is a great start at addressing this situation but with that come so many questions from customers - Why can’t you just increase their hourly pay? Why can’t you just increase the menu prices? Why can’t you take from the front of house tips?
I’ll answer these questions for you. The restaurant is likely not able to afford to increase every member of the BOH’s hourly rate without going into debt. There is also a huge risk in increasing menu prices for fear that people will stop coming in or order less food when they do, which could also lose money for the restaurant. Additionally it creates an uncomfortable environment to increase prices a significant amount. Finally, it’s against Massachusetts state law to include kitchen staff in the tip pool. So we needed a solution for all of these things and the 3% has gallantly stepped in to provide us with that.
It’s a natural defense mechanism to inquire and ask questions when you are being charged for something that you don’t understand or recognize. That is human nature. But for most people once I have taken the time to explain the kitchen appreciation fee and offered them to read the printed information on the menu they back down and actually get on board with it. Sometimes that’s not the case but again, it’s an optional fee that can be easily removed.
Where I work the kitchen appreciation goes directly to the BOH employees without getting touched by anyone else. It gets divided between them in their checks based on hours worked. It’s a huge incentive for people to work harder and for employees to want to stay working for you. Restaurant turnover is a huge problem, especially for the BOH, and this helps prevent that while also creating an incentive for people to want to come and work for you. When people are happy and being compensated well for their work they will work harder, better, and more efficiently. Who doesn’t want that?