An innocuous restaurant review over at the Philadelphia CityPaper has turned into an object of controversy. The problem? In the comment thread, an ex-employee accused the management of Northern Liberties’ Arbol Cafe of taking tips away from servers.
Fair enough, but then the management of the restaurant wrote in — and that’s when things got messy.
An ex-employee wrote in to CP:
“The owners of the Arbol cafe do not allow their workers to keep their tips. While getting paid 7 dollars an hour to bus, clean, set, take orders, run food, do dishes, and bleach bathroom/floors, the tips from customers are kept by the owners. Tipping the owner is considered rude and telling servers that they can’t is poor practice. After a four hour shift (28 bucks) with no tips, which one time a server made 30 dollars in tips I was unable to keep it.”
Here’s how the Arbol Cafe’s management responded:
“The cafe has been open all of three months and is undergoing drastic rennovations. Prior to our hiring any person, we make it quite clear that they will be paid above minimum wage to start. It is also our clear intent to not have waiters or waitresses but rather, persons who are interested in working and growing as a team and excelling in the project’s full potential. […] Our goal is to bring to the community a relaxed, casual, family atmosphere where tipping is optional for the customers and not needed by the staff. All money generated goes towards financing the rennovations as well as aiding us in being able to pay the workers well above minimum wage in respect to their ability and contributions.”
In other words, the original accusation was right and management was holding on to the tips. In response, CityPaper readers wrote in to accuse the restaurant of “stealing” from their waiters and waitresses, of being “deceitful,” “unethical,” of misappropriating tips and of “exploiting” employees. However, other readers are standing up for the restaurant:
“People. It is not stealing from the employee to pay them a wage that is far above the normal restaurant wage. It is not stealing to involve the employee in what is basically a profit-sharing arrangement. And it is not deceitful to tell any future employees the situation ahead of time and have the willingly sign up. Arbol cafe is a model business run by two people who care about what they are doing and the people they are serving, as well as the people that work for them. Their food is out-of-this world good and they deserve better than to be slandered on internet message boards. Go try them out. Talk to the owners (They are so friendly it is hard not to. How many other businesses are like that?), you’ll see.”
And thus, the great Philadelphia restaurant war of 2008 kicked off with a bang.