Food & Drink How Some of the Best New Restaurants Are Putting Their Staff First
Controversial 'World's 50 Best Restaurants' Group Announces 2022 Winners
Copenhagen’s Noma cedes the title of best restaurant in the world to fellow Copenhagen restaurant Geranium.The award ceremony—charmingly hosted by Stanley Tucci—comes after a one-year hiatus in 2020 and a contentious 2019 rule change preventing former winners of the coveted number one spot from placing first again. That change ruled out high-profile candidates like Osteria Francesca in Modena, Italy; Mirazur in Menton, France; and “new” Noma, which won for a fifth time in 2021 after relocating to a different location with a reimagined menu.
When Amanda Shulman worked as a cook at restaurants likein Philadelphia and in Bergamo, Italy, she rarely had a night off. “There was not much flexibility,” she says. “You're open when you're open and you work around the restaurant schedule.” So when Shulman opened , one of Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2022, she didn’t want her staff to have that same experience. The Philadelphia restaurant, which turns out French and Italian cooking with Jewish flair, is closed on weekends. The small team writes the month’s schedule together, and if there are conflicting major life events, the schedule is adjusted.
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After a pandemic brought into sharp focus theof restaurant work, and the often between customer and staff, some new restaurants have started doing things differently. Whether by reducing hours, paring down menus, or attempting to shift the transactional nature of customer-staff relationships, restaurants are reimagining their approach. They’re insisting that their staff comes first. Instead of paying the price for these changes, restaurants like Good Good Culture Club in San Francisco and Lasita in Los Angeles have long queues for reservations and lines out the door. They’re proof that putting staff first can make the experience better for everyone.
“I’d rather us be able to dictate our own role and be able to have a little more work-life balance,” says Shulman. Reservations for a table at her restaurant disappear within hours of being posted online.
The World's Best Restaurants Have Just Been Announced
One of the most prestigious awards in the industry has just been revealed at a ceremony in London—and the world’s best restaurant is in a soccer stadium.Other notable prizes include The Highest New Entry Award. This went to Uliassi in Italy, which debuted at a dizzying number 12 on the list and the Icon Award, which went to Wawira Njiru, a Kenyan social entrepreneur who founded Food for Education, a social enterprise that provides school meals to 40,000 kids per day. The Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award, which is voted for by other chefs on the list, went to chef Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil in Mexico City.
Focusing on staff starts with pay, according to the owners of Oakland’s Daytrip, one of Bon Appétit’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2022. Stella Dennig and Finn Stern opened their restaurant with an equal tip pool based on a 20% service fee, significantly higher-than-average pay starting at $25 per hour, and healthcare benefits, funded by raising menu prices by 5% across the board. “There’s this extraordinary lack of fundamental dignity to the way work is treated in this industry,” Justine Hwang, a server at Daytrip,in 2021. “We have to live in the world that we live in, and I think the service fee and being transparent is the best we can do.” While restaurants across the country struggled in late 2021 to hire employees due to a nationwide labor shortage, Daytrip received more applications than it could handle—in a single week.
“We knew if we couldn’t make a restaurant work with these things in place, it wasn’t worth it.”
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“You have to start from a point of paying people enough,” Dennig says. “Decisions like that are what grounded us before we opened. We knew if we couldn’t make a restaurant work with these things in place, it wasn’t worth it.”
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Like Her Place, Daytrip has remained flexible with its hours. The restaurant was originally open until 10 p.m. on weekends, but shifted to a shorter workday based on staff input that a six hour service was taxing on weekend nights. Now, the restaurant closes at 9:30 p.m. on weekends.
The owners relied on team input in their decision to give all staff two weeks of vacation, too: one between Christmas and New Year’s and one during the summer. “It’s not just better for them. It’s also better for us,” Dennig says. “We’ll have greater longevity if people are getting what they need—we’ve had extremely little turnover.”
At Her Place, Shulman is trying to build an ecosystem that prioritizes the personal lives and schedules of her staff. There’s a staff-wide vacation every quarter. Shulman recalls that in her years as a cook, she never took paid time off. At Her Place, she says, “You always have a vacation to look forward to.”
What Do We Lose When Every City Has a Carbone?
The rapid expansion of celeb-magnet restaurants is making things harder for indie spots.In March, Major Food Group launched a satellite location of its Carbone 10 minutes from Carbone’s Fine Food and Wine in Dallas, and it took a toll on Barsotti’s business. People have made reservations thinking it’s the other Carbone, then leave once they realize it’s not. “It wastes our time and loses us money,” says Barsotti, who brought a lawsuit against Carbone for trademark infringement. (Since I interviewed Barsotti, he’s withdrawn the lawsuit, and confirmed a settlement will not be announced.
Some restaurants are also shortening their menus to ease workloads for their staff.in Charlotte, North Carolina serves a tight menu of plain, white, and vegan pies with assorted toppings and kale caesar salad. The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. and remains open until 8 p.m., but on busy days, you could show up at 5:30 p.m. only to discover the last pies have already been snatched up.
While restaurants across the country struggled in late 2021 to hire employees, Daytrip received more applications than it could handle—in a single week.
Husband-wife duo and owners Kerrel and Nkem Thompson know that more pizza would mean more money, and more customers served—but with the bandwidth of their very small team, and their very small space in mind, they’ve decided to keep it simple. While the limitations of a 500 square foot kitchen and their staff of just four people (themselves included) drives their capacity, so does the Thompsons’.
“We wanted a comfortable space for the kids, instead of separating the idea of work and family life,” says Nkem.
Even before the pandemic, the team at Lasa, a restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown that was known for its Filipino tasting menu, envisioned opening a more casual rotisserie and natural wine bar. But the pandemic pushed co-owners Chase Valencia, Steff Barros Valencia and chef-owner Nico de Leon to do it sooner, and they opened Lasita, one of Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2022, in the same space.
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Lasa’s hyper seasonal menu created an environment where the kitchen was constantly creating new dishes and the front of house staff needed to memorize and explain every technique. In contrast, Lasita’s pared down service and simplified menu—with dishes like chicken inasal and pork belly lechon—has eased the strain on staff. “It allows us to have a better work-life balance,” De Leon says, “as opposed to breaking our backs to run this six-course menu.”
While shortened menus and more flexible hours have a clear upside for staff, there’s another,shift that’s making work more sustainable for some front of house staff. The little scannable squares of paper known as QR code menus are perhaps the most disliked evolution in recent restaurant culture. But by some restaurant owners and staff, they aren’t seen simply as a way to automate the jobs of front of house workers. Instead, they serve to make interactions between staff and customers feel less transactional.
"We wanted a comfortable space for the kids, instead of separating the idea of work and family life"
Atin San Francisco, one of Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2022, QR codes are at the center of every table. At Los Angeles’ , one of Bon Appétit’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2022, you’ll order at the restaurant’s deli counter, but once you’re sitting at a table, you can add to your meal using a QR code menu. This avoids repeat visits to the counter and helps team members in the large restaurant space figure out which tables to send food to. And while Korean restaurant in New York hasn’t opted for a full no-contact system, scanning a QR code menu on your phone before ordering from a front of house worker streamlines the experience.
Good Good Culture Club sees QR codes as, while eliminating the stress of order mistakes—whether missing a modification, letting an allergy slip by, or forgetting to add on a side dish. With QR code ordering, tickets go directly to the restaurant’s point-of-sale system and on to the kitchen.
“Servers can actually be more in contact with the table and guide them along,” says Good Good Culture Club co-owner Jeff Hanak. This efficiency in the ordering process goes hand in hand with a shorter dinner service, which lasts just four hours each night. Good Good Culture Club server Nora Barber doesn’t see QR codes as just another step in automating what would otherwise be a human interaction. Instead, Barber says relationships with customers are actually stronger now. “Using the QR system allows us as staff more time to be able to interact with the guests and have real conversations.”
Prices Are Rising for Diners Everywhere. At Upscale Restaurants, the Reasons Aren’t Always Clear .
Amid soaring inflation, most chefs are doing their best to keep prices down. But they notice other chefs taking advantage of the opportunity to upcharge dishes and institute lofty corkage fees.“They are in the hotel business,” Erdem says of the customers. “I didn’t want to be rude but I wanted to ask if his hotel rates had changed [during inflation].” To keep them satisfied, he agreed that any time they came in, he’d roll back their bill to last year’s prices. “I wanted them to be happy, and since they come so often, I gave them the bulk rate,” he says. He did so at a loss to his business.