Fair Wage + Wellness Provision
An Open Letter to Our Valued Guests and The DMV Dining Community
As a small, independently owned and operated restaurant, we believe in serving the highest quality food and drink at fair prices with warm service. We care for our guests and want to provide the best for them. We also value each and every member of our team and truly believe that all positions are equally integral to providing the guest with their dining experience. We are committed to creating a sustainable life and a healthy work environment for all those we employ.
This letter is an effort to create awareness of a new initiative we are taking, which we believe to be a movement in the right direction for our restaurant and similar small restaurants. With your support, we have an opportunity to take progressive steps towards fair wages and health benefits for all of our team members. We are committed to making these steps clear and transparent so that our guests can be confident in the business that they are supporting.
The current tipping structure in the United States is an antiquated paradigm, which has resulted in wage disparity between front-of-house and back-of-house employees in full-service restaurants for decades. Back-of-house staff lay the foundation for dining experiences in venues all over the country, but do not typically have access to fair wages and/or basic health benefits. The entirety of the customer’s tip is the legal property of the front-of-house staff, making it inaccessible to the back-of-house – either to increase their wages or to provide them with healthcare and benefits. Because this tip is such a large percentage of the customer’s check, it leads to massive income inequality between the staff who has access to it and the staff who do not. This increasing inequality is unjust and unsustainable and treats these hardworking individuals like second-class citizens.
For restaurants on either end of the spectrum, from fast casual chains to high-end tasting menus, the cost of providing higher wages and health benefits for their back-of-house employees is rolled into the prices of individual items or fixed price menus. But for full-service, a la carte restaurants, the balance between offering reasonably priced menu items and maintaining the staff required to prep, cook, serve, and clean them proves extremely difficult to strike.
We wish to provide our guests with high quality, from-scratch, handmade dishes made from the best ingredients possible. We make massive efforts to support sustainable, local, humane farming practices, and to utilize organic and natural ingredients whenever possible. We care for our guests and want to provide what is best for them, while still supporting the ecosystems that make delicious food possible. Unfortunately, this means that margins for restaurants like ours are significantly reduced, making it difficult to compete for talented personnel when it comes to higher wages and benefits.
Every year across the country, more and more restaurants are opening, but independent operations such as ours find it difficult to offer competitive wages. Those that do manage to keep their heads above water are still financially unable to provide the basic employee benefits that other industries take for granted. For a restaurant to offer health benefits outside of the umbrella of the corporate restaurant group is almost unheard of. This is what we seek to change.
Our Hospitality Provision is two-fold in its design. It both seeks to provide health benefits to all employees, as well as significantly diminish the wage disparity between traditionally tipped (servers, bartenders, food runners, etc) and non-tipped employees (chefs, prep cooks, dishwashers, and line cooks). We here at Emilie’s have always been advocates of change, and with the support of our community, we believe that we can better provide for the staff who put their labor and love into the food on our tables.
Rather than implementing this cost by increasing prices of individual menu items, we have decided to take a path that encourages transparency and does not further aggravate the inequality between front- and back-of-house wages. To this end, we are adding a 4% Fair Wage + Wellness Provision to all guest checks. After careful research, we have come to the conclusion that this is the best way to reduce wage disparity and provide health benefits for all full-time employees. No portion of this Hospitality Provision will go to ownership wages or investor dividends.
This has been a long-anticipated, carefully considered decision that we believe is the clearest path forward, both for our restaurant and for the many restaurants across the country already adopting a similar structure. This has been a difficult decision for us and involves great risk on our part. But it is the best way we see to help fix a complex problem, and we ask for the support and understanding of our guests and community to do so.
We appreciate your continued support of the entire Emilie’s team, and we look forward to serving you.
Special THANK YOU to Abe Conlon, Adrienne Lo, and the Fat Rice team for inspiration and guidance. When you're in Chicago please support them at Fat Rice, The Ladies Room, and The Bakery at Fat Rice.