By Bryce Covert
Jen Piallat, the owner of Zazie in San Francisco, knows what it’s like to work in the American restaurant industry. “I worked on the restaurant floor for 30 years before I owned my own,” she said. “I didn’t have savings or health insurance until I was 35.”
The story is very different for her employees today. She had already offered them 401(k) plans with a match, fully funded health and dental insurance, and paid sick leave. And now she’s gone even further, getting rid of tips in favor of increasing pay and offering even more benefits.
At the beginning of the month, the restaurant increased its prices across the board by about 20 percent. She noted some restaurants that have done away with tips have added a mandatory service charge at the bottom of the check instead. “I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I like the all-inclusive model…of everything, not just service, not just a tip, it’s also full benefits.”
Her servers’ wages, which were already about $15 an hour, will now raise by 2 to 3 percent. But those who work in the “back of the house” in the kitchen or busing tables will get at least a 30 percent increase. Servers will also get a share of profits, receiving 11 percent of their individual sales every day on top of their wages.
And while she offered paid family leave on an informal basis, she said she’s now added it officially to the books. “We have basically full benefits,” she said.
She anticipates the changes will make a big difference for her employees. “Housing is so expensive here,” she noted. Housing costs in San Francisco are up 6 percent over the last year and have risen in some neighborhoods by 50 percent over the last decade. Three years ago, she says, all of her staff lived in San Francisco proper, but now at least a third live outside the city. She also noted that most restaurant workers have no savings, just as she didn’t before opening her own up. But she says that combined, her employees have over $1 million in their 401(k) plans.