December 2, 2014 may or may not go down in history as a watershed moment for restaurant culture, depending on how well a new strategy launched by Los Angeles restaurant Alimento is received. Last night, every dinner check at the popular Italian spot included a second line for tips marked “Kitchen,” meaning a separate gratuity to reward the hard-working cooks toiling away with the fusilli and cockles in the back.
The new line appeared without any real fanfare on checks — it looked like this — so to ease diners in, chef-owner Zach Pollack decided to throw in a separate card that explains how great food is the result of “successful cooperation of a team of people,” but cooks and dishwashers often make a fraction of what front-of-house staff can on a good night. (Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations found in a recent survey that back-of-house workers make $18,720 while the people in front make $24,123.)
Pollack, who, incidentally, recently won praise from Jonathan Gold, says he had to make this move to retain talent after his small operation lost two terrific line cooks to greener hourly pastures. It probably didn’t hurt either that he’s in good company: Other high-profile West Coast restaurateurs have recently started tinkering with the structure of checks. Alimento’s extra tips will go into a pool distributed to all kitchen personnel below the level of sous chef. Nobody’s sure how it will ultimately play out — do you tip another 20 percent? Split it 10 and 10? Or, as Pollack imagines, toss “a few bucks to the guys in back”? However it does, Pollack rightly assumes the team toiling away behind the line will say thanks.
* This post has been updated.