Back of the House

The New Non-Union Kitchens of Hotel Restaurants


When Le Cirque closed at the Mayfair Hotel and was later ousted from the Palace, owner Sirio Maccioni blamed the high demands of Local 6 Hotel Bartenders and Club Employees Union. Last year Sirio said, “I never talk about politics or unions, because I hate them both.” Unions, he complained, made it almost impossible to have a profitable restaurant in a hotel. Though they might offer their workers job security, benefits, and a livable wage — all good things — the high wages of a union shop ($23 an hour for dishwashers; $12 for a “food server,” plus benefits) do cut significantly into profitability. So are this season’s newest crop of hotel restaurants facing the same challenges?

John Turchiano of Local 6 says that though the union has nearly 80 percent density in the hotel industry, few of the new boutique hotels are union shops. “If we’re not in the hotel, we’re certainly not in the restaurant,” he says. Neither the Standard (home of the Standard Grill); the Ace (home of the Breslin); the Greenwich Hotel (home of Locande Verde) or the Cooper Square (home of Table 8) are unionized. Interestingly, the only hotel with union representation, the Gramercy Park Hotel, was home to the ill-fated and now-closed Wakiya. (Though Maialino may well succeed where Wakiya failed.)

What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean any of the non-union places are maltreating or underpaying their workers and it doesn’t mean the presence of union labor is a death sentence. (Blame Wakiya’s seafood toast for that.) But it might be a clue as to why and how restaurants have sprung up so freely in the once no-man’s-land of the hotel lobby.

Related: Hometown Hospitality

The New Non-Union Kitchens of Hotel Restaurants