Duo Restaurant in Denver starts adding a “livable wage surcharge” for its kitchen staff

“Anytime a restaurant needs to increase menu prices to cover anything … the service staff gets an automatic pay increase. The kitchen does not.”

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The next time you eat at Duo Restaurant in Highland, you might notice something odd about your check.

Starting last week, the farm-to-table restaurant is adding a 2 percent “livable wage surcharge” to customer’s bills and giving all of it to its un-tipped, back-of-the-house staff.

“There is a wage discrepancy between kitchen staff and service staff,” said Keith Arnold, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Stephanie Bonin. “And how that happened is anytime a restaurant needs to increase menu prices to cover anything — rent, energy, increased wages, you name it — when you do that, the service staff gets an automatic pay increase. The kitchen does not.”

So how does that happen?

Well, even aside from tips, kitchen staff are paid differently than servers and hosts.

“Every January 1 there’s a minimum wage increase and that only hits the service staff,” Arnold explains. “Service staff make service staff minimum wage. It was $2.13 an hour maybe as little as six years ago. Now, it’s 6 something — $6.28. That’s a 300 percent increase, based on the law. And we already pay our back of the house more than minimum wage. They don’t get a bump.”

So that’s where it starts. Now the restaurant has to cover that wage increase, among the other expenses Arnold mentioned, by raising menu prices. And if your food costs more, your 20 percent tip is going to be more. That’s where the gap really grows.

And, no, they can’t mandate tip sharing with back-of-the-house staff. It’s against the law.

“It’s not intuitive to the average diner, which puts us in this role where now we’re educators. I don’t want to be … but the fact of the matter is there’s a problem and we reached a point where we needed to do something to fix it,” Arnold said.

“We’re not doing this to be disruptive. We’re not doing this for any special media coverage … I am all for supporting my incredible team. So that’s why we did this.”

Here’s Arnold and Bonin’s announcement of the change:

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