Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Moosehead Attacks New York Restaurant Patron

Beware of falling moose!

A Manhattan woman has sued a lower East Side restaurant, claiming she was conked in the head by a moosehead that fell off a wall.

Raina Kumra, 32, sued White Slab Palace, a Scandinavian-inspired hipster hangout on Delancey St., for an unspecified amount, charging the owners were "grossly careless" in mounting the taxidermy wildlife.

"It was the bar's fault," Kumra told the Daily News Tuesday. "I was injured and in an embarrassing way."

The 150-pound moosehead with antlers spanning over 3 feet was the centerpiece of the restaurant's back party room.

In a suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Kumra said she was standing under the moosehead about 1 a.m. on Oct. 4 when it came dislodged and crowned her.

Named in the suit is Annika Sundvik, a Manhattan art gallery owner who opened White Slab Palace in February.

The restaurant "had a duty to provide ... an environment free from falling objects," the suit charges.

Kumra said she suffered a concussion when clobbered on the head in the party room packed with patrons.

Since the incident, Kumra has lost cognitive skills and suffered chronic neck pain, fatigue, dizzy spells and anxiety from mounting medical expenses, the suit says. Sundvik, who also owns Good Bar & Grill in Chinatown, did not immediately return calls for comment. A manager at the restaurant refused to comment, saying she hadn't heard of the suit.

Meanwhile, Richard Santomauro, owner of Wildlife Taxidermy in Wall, N.J., insisted Kumra was not hit by a moosehead.

"That's a caribou," he said after viewing a photo of the stuffed head.

With Katie McFadden

With Katie McFadden

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cheesecake Factory Settles EEOC Suit in Case of Severe Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

Cheesecake Factory Settles EEOC Suit in Case of Severe Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

Restaurant Chain Will Pay $345,000 to Six Male Employees Who Agency Alleged Were Repeatedly Sexually Assaulted
PHOENIX – Cheesecake Factory, Inc., a nationwide restaurant chain that touts itself as a place to create “lasting memories with family and friends,” will pay $345,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that six male employees were subjected to repeated sexual harassment at the company’s Chandler Mall location.
In its lawsuit (EEOC v. Cheesecake Factory, Inc., CV 08-1207-PHX-NVW), the EEOC charged that Cheesecake knew about and tolerated repeated sexual assaults against six male employees by a group of male kitchen staffers. The company denied the allegations. However, according to the agency, the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the men suffered sexually abusive behavior, including abusers directly touching victims’ genitals, making sexually charged remarks, grinding their genitals against them, and forcing victims into repeated episodes of simulated rape. Managers witnessed employees dragging their victims kicking and screaming into the refrigerator, the EEOC charged.
Complaints to virtually every manager at the restaurant were made, but they never put a stop to it. Victims felt helpless, the agency said, and one finally had to call the police.
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr. Chow Sticks It To Philippe Chow Again; For TEN Million!!

Really, the insane Chow Wars are the gift that keeps on giving. The latest, via Eater Miami is that Mr. Chow was back in a Miami court today to file an amended complaint against all the Philippe restaurants. The new complaint merges the Florida and California cases and asks to be heard by a single court. Plus, four ex-Mr. Chow chefs have been named as new defendants because—according to the complaint—they were allegedly lured by Philippe (!!) to share trade secrets and other valuable confidential info they gained during their tenure at Mr. Chow. Team Chow says they stand by all of the claims in the lawsuit and will pursue damages in excess of $10 million. Follow along the fun at Eater Miami.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lawry's Settles Men's Sex Discrimination Suit for $1,000,000

Lawry's settles men's sex discrimination suit

LOS ANGELES — The Lawry's restaurant chain agreed Monday to pay more than $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed it barred men from waiting tables at its high-end steakhouses.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a final consent decree Monday in federal court. A judge must still approve the decree, under which Lawry's agrees not to violate U.S. laws against sex discrimination.
The EEOC sued the company in 2006, three years after a busboy at Lawry's Las Vegas restaurant claimed he was barred from a more lucrative serving job.
At the time, Lawry's waitresses could earn $25,000 to $56,000 a year, depending on tips, while busboys and others typically earned about 40 percent less.
Pasadena-based Lawry's Restaurants Inc. was accused of violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars sex discrimination.
The case was unusual because women usually are the plaintiffs in such discrimination lawsuits, said EEOC regional attorney Anna Y. Park, who oversaw the case.
While there are many waitresses in the restaurant industry as a whole, food servers at high-end establishments usually are men, Park said. However, Lawry's had a tradition of banning men that stemmed from a 1938 policy, she said.
"We hope employers take a look at their practices. Traditions or marketing is never going to be a defense," Park said.
Rich Cope, Lawry's director of marketing, said the company was pleased to resolve the issue.
"For over 85 years, Lawry's has been an industry leader in improving the quality of employment with our co-workers and continues to be committed to providing a workplace free of discrimination," he said.
Cope said the company has hired men for serving jobs since 2004, although he didn't immediately know how many men are employed as servers.
Under the consent decree, Lawry's agreed to pay $500,000 to men who were refused Lawry's serving jobs. Several hundred people might be eligible for compensation, Park said.
Lawry's also agreed to pay $225,000 to train all of its workers to comply with discrimination laws and more than $300,000 for an advertising campaign to let men know that server jobs are available, Park said.
The company also agreed to appoint an equal employment opportunity officer to ensure it complies with the three-year decree.
The settlement covers all of Lawry's restaurants in Southern California, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas and overseas.
"Sex discrimination, against men and women alike, continues to be a problem in the 21st century workplace," EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru said in a statement. "This case should remind corporate America that employment decisions must be based on merit and ability to do the job — not on gender stereotypes."

Foodie Rant - Properly Sauced? Try Properly Ripped Off.

As every good foodie knows, each new and exciting trend produces plenty of stale, unexciting hangers-on. Exposure quickly dampens our enthusiasm, but even lasting trends are hurt by the legions of high-priced, low-quality imitators. I've seen this happen with cupcakes, creme brulee, bacon, boutique pizza - and now it's happening with cocktails. Recently, I've been ripped off by a lot of bad cocktails, and it's reaching the level of a trend.

Let's be clear: I'm not complaining that every corner bar doesn't have an in-house mixologist. I'm also not complaining about the cocktail trend; it's one I happen to love and write about. I'm exceedingly happy that Americans are being reminded that there is more to drink than light beer and bad vodka. But, in a city where you can get one of the best cocktails in the world at the Violet Hour (for $12) and have a master mixologist make your cocktail tableside at The Drawing Room (also for $12), how can bad $14 cocktails be explained away? At Trader Vic's, a perennial Chicagoist favorite, you can get a great cocktail for $9 - what's the excuse?

Sometimes, one expects to be overcharged. If you're having a drink at the Signature Room, you're renting space at the top of the world. If you order a martini at Charlie Trotters, you probably don't care about the price. On the other hand, when I walk into an average 2-star restaurant and get charged $14 for a martini, I want to go beat the bartender over the head with a bottle. If the martini is bad, as it often is, the situation deteriorates. A decent $14 cocktail is a mild insult; a bad $14 cocktail is a slap in the face.

Now that every restaurant feels the need to have a cocktail menu, sometimes the evil is more transparent. Recently, before looking at a menu, I ordered a Sidecar at a relatively posh, well-established Chicago restaurant. A venerable old cocktail, the Sidecar is classically made with Brandy or Cognac, Cointreau and Lemon Juice. I got my Sidecar (which cost me $13) and almost spit it out - it was so badly made that I wouldn't have been able to recognize the drink blindfolded. When I looked at the menu, the cocktail was listed, and described as a combination of an anonymous Brandy, Dekuyper Orange Liqueur and Sour Mix. Bottom shelf liquor and sour mix out of a gun, and for this they charged $13? AND they admitted it? Standards need to be reestablished.

A few hints to avoid this silliness. If you want to drink cocktails and the restaurant has a cocktail menu, pay attention to what they're putting in your drinks. If a drink is more than $8, it had better have high quality ingredients and fresh juices. If they're not clear, feel free to ask the waiter or bartender. If they don't have a bartender, and random waitstaff are mixing drinks, don't pay top shelf prices - you're paying for the craft as much as the ingredients. Don't hesitate to ask about prices in advance - often, cocktail prices aren't on the menu, leading to an unhappy surprise later on. Lastly, return often to those restaurants and bars that do a great job at a reasonable price. Let them know you appreciate it and pad their bottom line - hopefully, they won't be tempted to jump on the high-price bandwagon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Waitresses at Hooters file suit for having to buy skimpy, sexy outfits with own money

It costs Hooters girls less than $20 to get sexy - but it may end up costing the tacky restaurant chain a lot more.

Two waitresses filed a class-action suit on Thursday in Brooklyn Federal Court charging that Hooters failed to reimburse them for buying and cleaning the barely there uniforms with the company logo.

Gina Rosati of Copiague, L.I., and Amy Fredericks of Bayside, Queens, said they were forced to fork over $5.45 for orange hot pants, $6 for the tight-fitting Lycra tank top, $3.25 for a pouch, $2.50 for suntan pantyhose and $2.25 for thick white socks.

Under state labor law, an employer must provide its workers with a workplace uniform if they're not regular street duds.

The women's lawyer, Louis Pechman, said the Hooters' practice is patently illegal.

"I don't think that could confuse the Hooters uniform clothes as part of someone's ordinary wardrobe," Pechman said.

Pechman said the cost may be minimal - but the law is the law.

Rosati, who works at the Hooters in East Meadow, L.I., and Fredericks at the restaurant Fresh Meadows, Queens, declined requests for interviews.

The company's Web site adds that the Hooters Girl uniform also consists of "a smile," but there's apparently no charge for that.

A call for comment to Strix LLC which owns and operates the Hooters restaurants on Long Island was not returned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Prime One Twelve is one of the finest restaurants on South Beach. Gleaming wooden plank floors, exposed brick columns, and creamy white leather-upholstered chairs set the stage for a menu listing three items that, to devotees of fine food, might seem inexpensive: $25 "Kobe beef sliders," a $25 "Kobe beef hot dog," and for those with an appetite, a $30 "one-pound Kobe hamburger."
The problem is that the meat isn't what's advertised. It's not the product of cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan that in some cases drink beer and receive sake massages.
Moreover, its listing on the menu is an apparent violation of federal standards and state law. "We were not aware of the requirement for the specific labeling," owner Myles Chefetz says when told of the problem. "Given this info, we will state this on the menu immediately."
Dozens of Miami restaurants include the same type of misleading information on their menus. And scores of customers every day pay top dollar thinking they are ingesting the world's most precious meat.
The list of offending eateries includes upscale and casual, local and national chains, and in Miami Beach and Brickell. There's 8 oz. Burger Bar, Bancroft Supper Club, China Grill, Gordon Biersch, Plat Bleu at the Delano, Meat Market, and Prime One Twelve. Contacted by New Times, representatives of each of these places admitted to serving high-quality American or Australian beef from similar cattle even when the item was listed as Kobe beef on the menu.
Indeed, the issue repeats in cities across the nation. Though the federal government has known of the trend for almost a decade, not much has been done.
"It's basically become a free-for-all," says Charles Gaskins, spokesman for the American Wagyu Association, a Washington state-based industry group with more than 250 members. "We're aware of the [federal] guidelines, but people do what they want... Some of them use the term Kobe in their farm names."
Kobe refers to beef from the black Tajima breed of Wagyu cattle, which are raised in Japan under strict ministry of agriculture oversight. Wagyu, which literally means "Japanese cattle," were imported to the island nation in the Second Century to cultivate rice. They have a genetic predisposition toward heavy fat marbling in the muscle. Prime cuts such as filet, rib eye, and strip loin are distributed the world over, prized for their rich flavor and tender, velvety texture.
Of course, this beef is expensive, selling for $16 to $30 per ounce depending on the cut, according to Anshu Pathak, owner of Kobe Beef Incorporated, a leading online purveyor.
So in 1976 and later from 1993 to 1994, some American farmers tried to come up with a cheaper product. They imported a few dozen Wagyu cattle and then cross-bred them with domestic Angus. The offspring looks similar to the pure-bred Japanese, but the meat is darker, with less marbling and a bolder flavor and texture. American Wagyu costs four to ten dollars per ounce, depending on the cut. (Australians produce something similar.)
This beef began to gain popularity between 2001 and 2004, when Japanese meat imports into the United States were temporarily banned during the mad cow scare. Now it's relatively widespread.
At the Bancroft Supper Club in Miami Beach, manager Karen Martin blames the restaurant's distributor for the menu items labeled "Kobe beef mini burgers" ($18) and "Kobe beef carpaccio" ($18), which she admits are Australian Wagyu. "The invoices say Kobe," she explains. "That's why we list it like that." She will work with chef Tim Andriola to make the description change.
Chef/owner Sean Brasel of high-end Lincoln Road steak house Meat Market lists a genuine Kobe item in a menu section called "Reserve Cuts." The "six-ounce Japanese A5 Kobe tenderloin" goes for $95. Then there's the meat labeled "Kobe skirt steak" ($31) and "white truffle Kobe tartare" ($21), which come from Snake River Farms in Idaho, not Japan.
Brasel explains that listing the real provenance of the skirt steak would be "redundant." "Customers know [those items] are not Japanese Kobe because of the price. In the other section with more expensive cuts, I specify."
Not all chefs understand they are misrepresenting products. Executive chef Maria Manso at the Delano in Miami Beach says her Plat Bleu menu offers "Kobe beef sliders" for $28 and then reveals they are American Wagyu. "The menu labeling comes from corporate," she explains. "We leave it up to the servers, who are well-trained to explain where it comes from if a customer has an issue or a question. There's no reason to change it." Phone calls to owner/operator China Grill Management were not returned.
It's perhaps more understandable that casual-dining establishments would mislabel their victuals. Take Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Gordon Biersch, which has locations in 17 states and Taiwan. The "Kobe sliders" ($10.95), popular at its Brickell Avenue outpost, are American Wagyu. To meet demand, corporate executive chef Bill Heckler also recently introduced a $13.95 "German Kobe burger," using the same beef, on his Oktoberfest menu.
Heckler will update the Gordon Biersch menu nationwide in January to accurately denote the provenance of the meat. He emphasizes the company trains servers to answer customers' questions about the product. He believes the majority of diners don't know the difference. "To my knowledge, use of the word Kobe was an acceptable marketing term," Heckler explains. "I recently had a situation with my rep where I specifically ordered Kobe beef from Japan and got American Wagyu instead. I wasn't happy."
Neighborhood burger joint 8 oz. Burger Bar in South Beach offers seven-dollar "mini Kobe corn dogs," also from Snake River Farms. Contacted by New Times, owner Eric Fried said he would immediately update the menu to include the word American.
"I was not aware that I was misrepresenting the product," Fried explains. "It certainly wasn't our intent to mislead customers. It's common sense, because I'm not charging Japanese prices."
Of course, blame doesn't lie with the restaurants alone. Inspectors, who regularly visit them, have done little to fix the problem. Incredibly, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service became aware of the issue almost a decade ago, explains spokeswoman Bridgette Keefe. "Restaurants started using the claim Wagyu beef on their menus. It was brought to our attention by the Snake River Farms company."
In 2005, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service launched a Certified Kobe Beef Program. It set guidelines for the Japanese product's representation in the American marketplace. States use these standards to build their food regulations.
In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is charged with enforcing a 52-year-old statute, 509.292, which deals with misrepresenting food or food product. Violating this law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. In extreme cases, prosecutors could charge restaurant owners with a second-degree misdemeanor, which could mean a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.
"The use of the term Kobe beef on a menu or special board is misrepresentation," says Jennifer Meale, DBPR's communications director. "Use of the terms Wagyu beef, American-style Kobe beef, Australian-style Kobe beef, and (country of origin) Kobe beef are acceptable, providing the operator can provide supporting invoices and product to match."
The department's 186 inspectors conduct twice-yearly reviews of each of the state's roughly 45,000 restaurants. Yet there hasn't been a single violation in the past three years for mislabeled Kobe beef, she explains. (By contrast, the department issued at least 33 violations in August alone for mislabeling of foods such as grouper, snapper, and crab.)
A keyword search for Kobe on leading online menu website pulls up 40 restaurant menus out of 670 in the Miami/Miami Beach area. As many as 30 menus might be misusing the term Kobe, judging by the description and prices listed.
The reason no one has been fined or criminally charged, says Meale, is that there have been no complaints in regard to Kobe beef. "It is important that consumers partner with the department to make us aware of any possible cases of misrepresentation," she says. "We encourage consumers to file complaints by visiting" (Her email is
One restaurant that sells the real thing is Prime One Twelve. Its "Japanese A5 Kobe filet" goes for $30 per ounce, with a two-ounce minimum. The place can even present you with a certificate of authenticity. After logging on to a website, you can trace the biography of your dinner, including birth date, gender, parentage, breed, farm, and slaughterhouse.
"Our servers are always instructed to tell diners of the difference between the American Wagyu and Japanese Kobe," Chefetz reassures.

Monday, September 21, 2009

$4500 Tip on a Desert? Nice Check!!!

Guinness' Stacey Cusack tries the 'Frrrrozen Haute Chocolate' at Serendipity 3 restaurant (225 East 60th Street) where the Guinness World Records awarded the record for World's Most Expensive Dessert to the $25,000 dish. The dessert is a blend of 28 cocoas and is infused with 5 grams of edible 23K gold. It is served in a bowl with a 1 carat diamond bracelet around it, and a Gold and diamond spoon

(25,000 x 18% = $4500 tip)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Uniforms For Tipped Employees; What is the Law?

It has long been industry practice for employers, including many in the hospitality industry, to require workers to wear clothing of a particular kind or appearance. What many do not realize is that this practice can have significant ramifications under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. If your clothing policy violates the FLSA, "everybody does it" will not be a defense. A new U.S. Labor Department guidance letter has added at least a little clarity in this area.

The Basics

So how are clothing requirements and the FLSA connected in the first place? If clothing is viewed as a uniform under that law, then the cost of or deposits on the required apparel cannot be deducted from an employee's wages (or otherwise placed upon the employee) to the extent that this cuts into the required minimum wage or overtime due the person at 1.5 times his or her regular rate of pay.

For example, let's say your hotel or restaurant requires certain employees to buy uniforms. You generally cannot compel them to bear the costs of the purchase to the extent that it reduces the employees' wages to below the FLSA-required wages due for the week in which the expense is incurred. This is also true where an applicant has to buy such items in order to be hired by the employer.

DOL says that items of an ordinary, basic, street-clothing nature which the employer specifies only in general terms and as to which it allows variations in the details generally do not fall within the definition of a "uniform." But DOL has also warned that, if the employer prescribes a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work – such as where a restaurant or hotel requires a tuxedo or a skirt and blouse, or jacket of a specific style, color, or quality – that sort of clothing would be considered a uniform. It's usually best to evaluate these matters on an item-by-item basis, because the employer bears the risk of erroneously deciding that clothing is not subject to the FLSA's limitations.

The Latest On Shoes

Recently, a DOL opinion letter addressed whether a requirement that employees wear "dark-colored," closed-toe shoes with a non-slip sole triggered the FLSA's cost limitations. Employees were allowed to wear complying shoes they owned when they were hired, or they could buy the necessary shoes anywhere they wanted. They could wear the shoes outside of work. DOL concluded that the shoes appeared to be a general type of ordinary footwear, and that the employer-required characteristics did not cause them to rise to the level of a "uniform" for FLSA purposes.

But DOL made it clear that there are no hard-and-fast rules on this subject. It also cautioned that the issue "is a question of fact to be considered in the context of each particular case." And while the letter did not say so, it is also true that DOL's position does not necessarily preclude employees from suing in court if they disagree.

By the way, these principles can also apply to the cost of cleaning and maintaining required uniforms: generally, that cost may not be imposed upon an employee to the extent that this reduces the worker's wages to below the required amount(s) due for the hours worked. DOL has taken the enforcement position that, where uniforms are 1) made of wash-and-wear materials; 2) may be routinely washed and dried with other personal garments; and 3) need not be ironed, dry-cleaned, washed daily, commercially laundered, or otherwise specially handled, then uniform-maintenance costs need not be reimbursed under the FLSA.

But where special treatment is required, such as in order to meet a company's particular appearance standards, or standards imposed by law, then a reimbursement must be made to the extent that the related cost cuts into the required FLSA minimum wage or overtime.

Beyond The Feds

Of course, you should always take any relevant state laws into account whenever you are assessing wage-hour compliance. This is especially true where required apparel is concerned, because a number of States apply their own, particular limitations. Many of those rules further restrict what employers may do as to uniform costs or charges even more than the FLSA does.

For instance, some States prohibit charging employees for uniforms in any amount. As another illustration, a State might not follow the "wash-and-wear" position adopted by DOL and might require maintenance-related reimbursements even for clothes of that variety. States having their own rules also tend to take a broad view of what constitutes a "uniform."

As with most wage/hour matters, if you're unsure, it's probably best to check with your legal counsel.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Restaurant Policies Punish Tipped Employees

Things have been getting busy around the office. With the downturn in the economy, it seems that many restaurant owners and managers are looking for a way to lower costs and bump up profits. Unfortunately, it seems that wait staff and other tipped employees are the first to suffer.

My first thought on this trend is for restaurant management to understand that your most important employees are the ones that have direct contact with your customers. If your front of the house (FOH) staff is unhappy, the image they transmit to the customers is the same and that hurts business.

My second thought on the trend is if you need to cut costs, do not start with staff who are making only $4.23/hr. (the new minimum wage for tipped employees in Florida). After 25 years in the restaurant business I have found that the best way to cut costs is to keep a closer eye on the kitchen. One over-cooked 16oz. NY Strip will set you back $6.50 just for the steak. Put another properly cooked steak on the plate and it cost you $13.00 just in meat to make $15.95.

Although the state of Florida does not have very strong laws to protect hospitality workers, the Federal government does. There are very strict laws as to who may participate in tip pools and the proper rate which needs to be paid for overtime.

The Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin specializes in protecting hospitality workers rights throughout the entire state. Some of the recent cases we are working on include:

• Servers working at a restaurant were not paid any hourly wages and were required to contribute each week to the money paid to the restaurant cleaning crew.

• Servers at a country club were required to pool their tips in which the salaried management received a large portion.

• Servers at a restaurant were not allowed to clock in until they were sat their first table. They were required to be at the restaurant 1 hour prior to opening and were not paid for doing their set up side work. Additionally, two of the servers claim they were sexually harassed by the kitchen staff and management. When they complained to management they were told to toughen up. SETTLED

If you think the restaurant you work at is breaking the law, please contact our office for free to discuss the issues.

Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin
22 NE 1st Street Suite 201
Miami Florida 33132

Tel: 305.358.6800
Fax: 305.358.6808
Toll: 888.KUVINLAW (588.4652)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Snapper on your plate may be an impostor

Genetics professor Mahmood Shivji didn't get into DNA research to strike fear in the hearts of restaurant owners and chefs.

But the Guy Harvey Research Institute, which he heads, is a virtual CSI: Seafood lab these days. The widespread -- and illegal -- practice of fish substitution at restaurants has placed Shivji's marine life genetics expertise in high demand.

In the last two years, Shivji has analyzed upward of 100 restaurant plates from across the country, more than half the time proclaiming that the dish was not the grouper or snapper specimen that diners thought they were eating. Instead, restaurants secretly served up cheaper fish such as catfish or tilapia.

``It's consumer fraud,'' said Shivji, who teaches at Nova Southeastern University. ``You're paying for item X and usually grouper and red snapper are on the higher end of the price list.''

With domestic grouper costing restaurants $11 or $12 a pound -- and imported catfish available for a mere $2.50 a pound -- unsavory chefs can profit handsomely from this unethical bait-and-switch.

Shivji has picked apart breaded fillets, fillets doused in sauce, even charred fillets left on the grill a little too long.

``We can tell with 100 percent certainty'' whether restaurants are scamming, Shivji said. The professor's initial interest in identifying fish through DNA came from his passion for conservation. The federal government was having a hard time enforcing protections for endangered shark species, for example, because rogue fishermen would chop up their illegal shark catches in ways that hid any identifying features.

But chopping up a fish can't hide the DNA, Shivji reasoned. Shivji went on to pioneer a new way of testing shark DNA that has been instrumental in cracking down on the shark fin trade.


Enter CBS4's Al Sunshine. Sunshine approached Shivji in 2007 with the idea to use the power of DNA to expose fish-swapping restaurants. Sunshine had to do a bit of arm-twisting to convince Shivji to run the first test, but Shivji's skepticism melted as the evidence of rampant seafood fraud poured in.

``It just validates the argument that this is a national, if not international, problem,'' Sunshine said.

Shivji's phone was soon deluged with calls from TV reporters in other towns. Shivji dutifully accepted and tested their frozen fish samples -- mailed in from places that included Los Angeles, New York and Charlotte, N.C.

Shivji has also fielded inquiries from an unidentified local fish wholesaler (who wanted to make sure his inventory was legit) and the Missouri attorney general's office (which was investigating restaurants in Kansas City).

Fish mislabeling persists in part because it is virtually impossible for federal and state regulators to police all of the nearly five billion pounds of seafood consumed by Americans each year -- more than 80 percent of which is imported.

Many restaurant patrons are also unfamiliar with the differences between species -- they might order grouper simply because it's a name they've heard before. ``Most consumers can't really tell the difference between a grouper and a catfish,'' said Carlos Sanguily, vice president of Doral-based fish importer JC Seafood.

Aside from not getting what you pay for, fish mislabeling is a serious obstacle to ocean conservation efforts, Shivji said.

Widely popular grouper, for example, is a ``severely overfished'' species, but by appearing (often in name only) on menus everywhere, it creates the false perception that groupers are plentiful.

Fish-swapping can also have health consequences. Some imported fish may be raised in polluted waters, and diners with specific fish allergies can end up eating a fish species they're doing their best to avoid.

Sushi lovers ordering ``White Tuna'' are routinely served escolar, a tasty-but-oily fish that so frequently causes diarrhea it earned the nickname ``Ex-Lax fish.''

In the general genetics class Shivji teaches at NSU every fall semester, seafood fraud has become a teaching tool. Shivji regularly sends an army of students out to local restaurants to collect grouper samples that will be DNA-analyzed in class.

The tests revealed sizable numbers of impostor fish.

``It's got them jazzed up,'' Shivji said of his students. ``They go and talk about it with their families, `We did this and this is what we found.' ''


Of course, keeping restaurants honest isn't solely the job of TV reporters and college researchers. Federal agencies such as the FDA have the ability to fine -- and in extreme cases prosecute -- restaurants and fish distributors that are deceiving buyers. State inspections of restaurants can also prompt fines of those who engage in fish-swapping.

Fort Lauderdale's Tokyo Sushi Express was cited by the state last month for selling customers tilapia billed as snapper. Imitation crab meat was also sold as real crab.

Manager Rob Rodalis said the restaurant had intended to print tilapia on the menu all along. ``I think it was a miscommunication between the one who printed up our menu. . . . It was a mistake,'' Rodalis said.

Rodalis said the restaurant had been unaware that imitation crab needed to be identified as such on menus.

Both federal and state governments have been criticized for not doing enough to catch seafood scammers. In some cases the restaurants can be the victim, with seafood distributors charging top dollar for what are secretly bargain-basement species of fish.

A federal Government Accountability Office report released earlier this year faulted agencies such as the FDA for ineffective, uncoordinated oversight efforts.

Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, an industry trade group, said U.S. fishermen ultimately suffer from fewer buyers and depressed prices when restaurants opt for selling imported, make-believe grouper. Jones, who estimates close to a quarter of all restaurants are deceiving customers, said diners should be suspicious of seafood deals that are too good to be true.

``If you pay less than $10 for a grouper dinner, your odds, in my opinion, are nil,'' Jones aid. ``You couldn't sell real grouper like that unless you were stealing the grouper.''

Information on restaurants cited by state inspectors for food misrepresentation can be found online at:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mr. Chow v. Philippe Miami

In a case of spied rice, Mr. Chow says rival restaurateur Philippe Chow's staff sneaked into the kitchen of his new Miami outpost in order to steal trade secrets.

Michael Chow, who started the Mr. Chow chain more than three decades ago, yesterday amended his recent trademark infringement lawsuit against his former employee, Philippe, to include charges of "corporate espionage."

The incident, which was captured by surveillance cameras, happened on Tuesday at the soon-to-open Miami Mr. Chow -- just across the street from Philippe Chow's restaurant.

Disguised as a chef, the 65-year-old spy tried to blend in while the kitchen staff was being briefed on the plans for the new restaurant, attorney Alan Kluger said.

When confronted by an executive chef, the spy said he was trying to appear "incognito," and so that "your boss will not notice," according to the lawsuit.

Philippe and his partner, Stratis Morfogen, discounted the allegations.

"This is beyond bizarre and at this point we have no further comment describing michael chow's delusional and paranoid state of mind," Morforgen said.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Economy takes a bite out of tips for wait staff

Struggling restaurant servers are eager for a turnaround, and more tips

Fridays are slow for Jason Jakway, a bartender at Chili's at Bayside. Jakway, who has worked at the restaurant for more than two years said his income has taken a major hit from the economic slump.

He's not alone. When business is good, servers often make more than half their income in tips. But when consumers tighten their belts and cut back on nights on the town, those dependent on tipping feel the pain instantly because so much of their pay is tied directly to consumer demand.

``I'm not paying attention to the wage. I'm paying attention to the tips,'' said Socil Belleza, a waitress at Prezzo Restaurant and Martini Bar in Aventura.

Jakway said in good times he could make up to $400 on a weekend night. Now it has become difficult to buy gas and pay tolls to commute to Florida Career College, where he is studying network engineering. Two months ago he was forced to cut back on classes.

Restaurants experiencing slowdowns usually cut back on hours for the service staff, said Allen Susser, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Miami-Dade chapter. He said this at least allows those who are working to make money.

But business is so slow now that servers are scrambling to work more just to break even, said Wilson Vazquez, a bartender and waiter at Bayside's Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.

``I'm hurting,'' he said. ``I've picked up more shifts than usual, worked double shifts, just to make what you would during a regular shift.''

Vazquez said his customers tip about as much as before, but there are fewer of them.


Many South Florida restaurants charge an automatic 15 percent gratuity on meals because in a tourism-driven economy, many patrons come from countries where tipping isn't customary.

But local custom can give way in a recession. ``Even Americans have been tipping less,'' said Veronica La Rosa, a waitress at Hofbräu München Beerhall on Lincoln Road. La Rosa said when she started last August, servers were making $3,000 a month in tips alone. That was during the slow season. But after the financial meltdown last fall, she said, business dropped off noticeably. ``This year, it's been so bad that the slow season was better,'' she said.

One Friday, she only waited five tables during her shift, and only one tipped more than the automatic 15-percent gratuity. La Rosa said that surcharge is split between the servers, busers, bartenders and hosts. Hofbräu München has cut overtime and started opening later in the day, she said.

``Everybody's fighting for more hours,'' said Sascha Perisic, CEO of the restaurant.

While the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 for most workers, tipped workers such as bartenders and waiters are paid a minimum of $4.23 because of a $3.02 credit for tips.

Peter Edouard, a buser at Prezzo, said he has noticed his 3-percent take on gratuities drop. While he makes the standard minimum wage, the waiters make the lower one for tipped workers. ``A lot of them have houses and bills to pay. It's harder for them,'' he said.

Another factor that may be depressing wait-staff pay: an oversupply of restaurants, according to a noted economist. Though taxable sales at Miami-Dade restaurants have actually grown on a year-to-year basis since January, restaurants are closing. There may be more local establishments than demand can support, said economist Tony Villamil, dean of the business school at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. ``Some may go out of business and some may be consolidated,'' he said.

Reduced consumer demand has forced restaurants to cut costs and pin hopes on luring customers with a host of specials, promotions and discounts.

While these deals can help fill the seats, they also mean lower tabs -- and therefore lower tips for the servers.


Hofbräu München has cut prices on its traditional liter-sized mugs of beer from $13 to $10 and instituted a 20 percent discount on meals before 4 p.m. Perisic said the restaurant has seen more customers on Tuesdays for the new all-you-can eat buffet.

Hope Thomas, Prezzo's manager, said the restaurant is trying new events to bring in a younger crowd that will help traffic at the bar. Thomas said the economic climate has made things difficult. ``Where people used to go out and spend $15 for lunch, now they're bringing their lunch,'' she said.

Ati Eskandari, a waitress at Prezzo, said the slump has changed the staff's expectations of a good night.

``Now if you make $100 a night, you're happy,'' she said.

``People were making two or three hundred before.''

Belleza said she still enjoys her job, but hopes to see more patrons. She said she's not sure when the economy will return to normal.

``Soon, I pray,'' she said.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Johnny Depp Leaves $4K Tip For Chicago Waiter

Johnny Depp Leaves $4K Tip For Chicago Waiter

Johnny Depp has previously said that money isn't the key to happiness.

But during a visit to a Chicago restaurant, the star certainly brought joy to one unsuspecting waiter with a reported sizable tip.

Depp, his "Public Enemies" co-star Marion Cotillard, director Michael Mann, along with about a dozen other folks -- who were in Chicago last week for the premiere of their new gangster movie -- made a stop at Gibsons Steakhouse around 11:30 PM, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
VIEW THE PHOTOS: The Latest Star Sightings >>

Once the bill came around 2:30 AM -- totaling up to a reported $4,400 -- Depp made sure the man who waited on the group into the late hours was well compensated for his time, as Mohammaed A. Sekhani reportedly received a $4,000 tip from the star.

"He had visited our restaurant several times before while he was filming 'Public Enemies' and he promised me that he would return after the premiere," Sekhani told Radar Online.
VIEW THE PHOTOS: Johnny Depp: Hollywood's Man Of Many Faces >>

According to the longtime Gibsons waiter, Depp and his friends ordered items including shrimp cocktails, Clams Casino, as well as a few expensive bottles of wine.

"He also ordered some $500 bottles of Italian wine and he was in good spirits throughout the evening chatting with Mr. Mann and Miss Cotillard," Sekhani added.
VIEW THE PHOTOS: Summer Movie Preview 2009 >>

Generous tip aside, Sekhani said he always enjoys waiting on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star each time he visits Gibsons.

"Because he had visited us before he calls me 'Mo' and I know exactly the way he likes to be treated. He may be one of the most famous actors in the world but he is a very 'humble guy' and a really cool dude," the waiter continued. "I have worked with a lot of stars like Sean Connery and Robert De Niro but Johnny Depp is my favorite He is a very soft spoken guy who is very charming and sweet -- when I wait for him he doesn't like to be too fussed over and is not in any way demanding."

When contacted by Access Hollywood, a rep for Depp was not immediately available for comment on the story.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shaken & Stirred History and Mystery: The Bartender Smiles

Shaken & Stirred
History and Mystery: The Bartender Smiles

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: June 19, 2009

MY bartender looked pleased. It was a late afternoon last week, in Charleston, S.C., where I’d been wandering downtown on King Street in a sunlit daze and working up a formidable thirst.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

MORE GARNISH The Zin Cup at Nios, looking gorgeous.
Zin Cup (June 21, 2009)

“Let’s do a Pimm’s Cup,” I told the bartender. Fizzy, refreshing, a drink that thrives in sunshine: the perfect antidote. He grinned. “A very underappreciated drink,” he said, still smiling, as he fished a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 from the rear row of bottles, like a cook thrilled to have found a use for the cardamom lurking way back in the spice cabinet.

After pouring the tea-colored liquid over ice, he fetched a small bottle of ginger ale, then paused. “I presume you want it with ginger ale?” he asked.

Well, sure. Ginger ale, as opposed to 7-Up, or lemonade, or club soda. I dig the extra prickle. But this pause made me think. The age-old formula is one part Pimm’s — a mild (and, yes, underappreciated hereabouts) gin-based digestif that’s been slaking British thirst since the mid-19th century — to roughly three parts fizz, dolled up with cucumbers, mint and strawberries. But what else could you add?

Anything and everything, as it turns out. “I haven’t found anything that doesn’t mix well with Pimm’s,” said Jacques Bezuidenhout, the mixologist at Nios, a Times Square restaurant and wine bar that opened in April. Mr. Bezuidenhout is especially fond of fusing one part Pimm’s to two parts blanco tequila.

But for Nios, he said, “I wanted to add to the wine theme.” Hence the Zin Cup, a sort of British sangria in which Pimm’s is mixed with red zinfandel and ginger beer. Sprightly and a little cheeky, the drink has been the top seller at Nios since its opening.

“Pimm’s has history, complexity and the allure of its mysterious ingredients,” said Brian McGrory, the bar manager at Double Crown on the Bowery. (The Pimm’s recipe is a tightly guarded secret.)

Like Mr. Bezuidenhout with the tequila, Mr. McGrory is fond of mixing cross-culturally: He mixes Pimm’s with Polish bison-grass vodka, along with freshly pressed apple juice and a dose of St-Germain elderflower liqueur.

At the recently opened 675 Bar, in the meatpacking district, a drink called the Two Islands Cup pairs Pimm’s with Irish whiskey, along with house-made lemon soda and chunks of honeydew.

Ben Scorah, the mixologist at Beekman Bar and Books on First Avenue in Midtown, adds Creole Shrub, a rum-based orange liqueur, to his Pimm’s formula. Creole Shrub “gives depth and body as well as an amazing orange flavor,” he said in an e-mail message. Mr. Scorah dresses his tweaked Pimm’s Cup with “all the usual suspects,” he wrote. That means a salad of mint, strawberries, cucumber, and orange and lemon slices.

With a Pimm’s Cup, the garnish is more than decorative bunting. The cucumber, for instance, “softens the flavors,” Mr. Bezuidenhout said. The garnishes are also part of the drink’s charms. “When you dress it properly, and put it out on the bar, people flock to it,” he said. Like people, he said, “cocktails attract by sight, and by beauty.”

Monday, June 1, 2009


MIAMI - A restaurant, lounge, night club and liquor store in Pembroke Pines, Fla., violated federal law when it discriminated against older employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed yesterday.

According to the EEOC's suit against Club Gabys, Edith Cruse and several other employees over 40 were subjected to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment and were fired or forced out of their jobs because of their age.

In March 2007, Club Gabys came under new management. The EEOC said the new managers stated they would get rid of all the old and ugly people. Older employees were told that there were too many old employees and they needed younger ones. Club Gabys began to cut older employees' hours and wages, take away their responsibilities, assign them to undesirable shifts, and force them out or terminate them outright. Younger employees were hired to cover the more desirable shifts and replace the older workers.

Such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Man Mar, Inc., Case No. 0:09-cv-60761) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

This lawsuit is a reminder that, although progress has been made, it is still possible for people to be judged at work by factors like age, rather than years of proven experience and ability,said EEOC Miami District Director Jacqueline McNair.

EEOC Regional Attorney Nora Curtin added, Employers cannot eliminate older workers because they do not fit the employer's desired image. The law is well established that employers may not break the law in order to cater to what they perceive to be customer preference for youth.

During Fiscal Year 2008, age discrimination charges surged to a record high 24,582 an increase of 29 percent from the prior fiscal year.

The Red Zone Cafe and Sports Theater Lawsuit

I hear that there has been some no good going on at the The Red Zone Café & Sports Theater. If you have been discriminated against by your employer or they have not paid you the proper wage for your hourly work, contact my law office.

Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin
22 N.E. 1st Street Suite 201
Miami Florida 33132

Tel: 305.358.6800
fax: 305.358.6808

Or email me at

We are always available to hep you!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Florida Age Discrimination - Death Before Your Dead

Age Discrimination - An Insidious Epidemic

Those of us who practice in the field of employment law have been faced with the realization that, although our work-life expectancy has increased, the age at which we are considered expendable and no longer capable of making a meaningful contribution has been systematically reduced. The inevitable result is that older workers are “forced out” of their positions, well before their work-life expectancy is achieved.

Years ago it was not unusual for people to work until they, themselves, felt they could no longer effectively perform. Now, performance often plays no role when an employee is asked to leave the workplace. Instead, age becomes the determining factor. Regrettably, some companies have actually set ages at which employees face mandatory retirement, although many employees looked forward to remaining at their jobs for a longer period. Although they are physically and emotionally capable of a longer work-life, conditions in the workplace frequently force employees, when they reach their 50s, out of positions they are still fully capable of fulfilling and mastering. It makes no sense, given the experience and energy that goes to waste when this occurs.

We fully recognize, certainly at this time, the strong burdens placed upon management to reduce costs. It is a fact that workers of age frequently earn higher compensation than younger employees. Dispensing with older workers, with higher salaries, rather than younger workers, might appear to represent greater savings for the employer. Therefore, this can be an enticing reason for management to force older workers out if the employer is faced with a need to cut costs. However, that can be a hollow choice, given the fact that we often find the younger replacements frequently in need of more supervision, a period of adjustment and other unknowable pitfalls that arise when experienced workers are removed from their positions. There could well be greater employment costs and frequently a failure to produce the expected and required results. We believe that is why the operative laws against age discrimination provide that “age need not be the only reason for the termination, but only one of the reasons.” Ostrowski v. Atlantic Mutual Insurance, 968 F.2d 171, 180 (2d Cir. 1992).

We recognize that “employment is at will.” We must also recognize, however, that termination that has a discriminatory basis clearly trumps the concept of employment at will. And so the battle begins. Was the termination based upon a reason that has been judicially deemed appropriate, or did age play some role in the termination?
In other areas of employment discrimination, it is inconceivable that we could find any factors that could reasonably justify, or explain away, an act of employment discrimination. No one can reasonably explain, or justify, how a man could do a job, but not a woman. Or how someone in a minority group could not do the job of a non-minority employee. But with respect to age discrimination, we find that there are those in the workplace who argue, despite the laws that provide otherwise, that the employer should be permitted to consider age in its determination as to who should be hired and who should be fired. They argue that the workplace belongs to the employer and that age should not be considered a protected class. Some may even assert that market forces will protect older people and they do not require the protection of age discrimination laws. We say otherwise.

We believe age discrimination is an increasing epidemic. It has escalated to the point that age discrimination now has a pervasive effect in the workplace. This tidal wave of age discrimination must be addressed in vigorous and meaningful fashion.

If you think you have been discriminated against based on your age (over 40), please contact us as soon as possible. or

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bogus waiter tricks customers at 2 NJ restaurants

Bogus waiter tricks customers at 2 NJ restaurants

Sat Apr 18, 1:55 pm ET

HOBOKEN, N.J. – Police say a man posing as a waiter collected $186 in cash from diners at two restaurants in New Jersey and walked out with the money in his pocket.

Diners described the bogus waiter as a spikey-haired 20-something wearing a dark blue or black button-down shirt, yellow tie and khaki pants.

Police say he approached two women dining at Hobson's Choice in Hoboken, N.J. around 7:20 p.m. on Thursday. He asked if they needed anything else before paying. They said no and handed him $90 in cash.

About two hours later he approached three women dining at Margherita's Pizza and Cafe. He asked if they were ready to pay, took $96 and never returned with their change.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unpaid Wages in Florida

If you worked at an establishment and you were not paid for some of your time you can send a letter of demand to the employer asking for your past due wages. This is different than not being paid the correct hourly or overtime rate.

Many times employees help to open a restaurant by doing extra work such as cleaning or painting and are promised a day wage and then are not paid.

There are two important paragraphs that you must include:
Florida Statute 448.110(6)(a)-(b)
(6)(a) Any person aggrieved by a violation of this section may bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction against an employer violating this section or a party violating subsection (5). However, prior to bringing any claim for unpaid minimum wages pursuant to this section, the person aggrieved shall notify the employer alleged to have violated this section, in writing, of an intent to initiate such an action. The notice must identify the minimum wage to which the person aggrieved claims entitlement, the actual or estimated work dates and hours for which payment is sought, and the total amount of alleged unpaid wages through the date of the notice.

(b) The employer shall have 15 calendar days after receipt of the notice to pay the total amount of unpaid wages or otherwise resolve the claim to the satisfaction of the person aggrieved. The statute of limitations for bringing an action pursuant to this section shall be tolled during this 15-day period. If the employer fails to pay the total amount of unpaid wages or otherwise resolve the claim to the satisfaction of the person aggrieved, then the person aggrieved may bring a claim for unpaid minimum wages, the terms of which must be consistent with the contents of the notice.

Good luck and email me if you have any further questions.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act

The end came abruptly for Sterling Casino cruise ship employees.

One evening last July they were steaming out to sea with 800 gamblers on board, and the next morning their jobs were gone. Sterling ceased operations at Port Canaveral and gave workers no notice.

The closure might have violated a long-standing but little-known federal law designed to protect workers in the event of major layoffs. Known as the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, it requires that employers give workers at least 60 days' notice of planned layoffs.

But the act comes with little bite, making lawsuits brought by employees the only real enforcement.

Now, as layoffs become a regular event, labor advocates argue that WARN should be strengthened.

"A lot of employees have never even heard of it," said Tony Paris, a staff attorney with the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice in Detroit. "When I went through law school, I never heard of it."

Jones, 53, of Cocoa Beach, hadn't either, until he spoke to a co-worker who'd had a similar experience with another cruise line. When he learned of the law, he helped organize a group of employees to sue the company. Their class-action lawsuit, which is pending in federal court, asks for $3 million in back pay for about 400 employees.

Sterling's attorney would not discuss the case, but in court filings the company argues that "unforeseeable business circumstances" — a defense allowed by the WARN act — led to the sudden shutdown.

The 20-year-old law was passed during an era of factory closures in the nation's "rust belt." With companies folding, the law was portrayed as a way to protect employees and towns dependent on a single major employer.

But the law's effectiveness has been questioned for years. It contains exemptions and, generally, applies only to companies with at least 100 employees.

In the 1990s, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that in more than half of the cases it studied, exemptions permitted employers to withhold notice. When notice was required, auditors discovered companies did so less than 30 percent of the time.

In part, that's because there's little downside to ignoring the law. Neither the state nor federal government can punish a company for violating the law, so employees' lawsuits are the primary enforcement mechanism. If a company loses in court, it pays back wages and lawyers' fees, not fines or punitive damages.

"In some ways," said Melanie Damian, the attorney for former Sterling workers, "it almost makes sense for an employer to ignore the act."

Businesses and business advocacy groups generally oppose any changes to the law that would increase penalties or reporting requirements. In many cases, they say, companies can't predict what will happen within 60 days. And broadcasting plans to shut down, they point out, could make it difficult or impossible to stay open at all.

"We're confident that employers nationally and across the state are trying to do what's best for employees," said Kirsten Borman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "We hope the government doesn't get into mandating the employer-employee relationship."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Question & Answer


Dear Mr. Kuvin,

As I said before each server automatically has 6% of their sales taken out for tip share. On an average night this can be anywhere from $25-50 per server with about 7-10 servers working. Based on discussions with the service bartender... the bartender, busboy, and food runner are each given $60-$80 per night, depending on if it is a week day or week end. This means that instead of taking the actual tip share and dividing it evenly among the support staff, the restaurant is keeping it and paying out a set amount to the support staff. If you do the math, there is a huge excess of tips not being shared with the support staff on a daily basis. The manager explained that it helps to offset the amount he pays the support staff on the slower nights or out of season. But this just doesn't seem right or fair. It seems as if the restaurant must be making extra money off this.

I don't even believe they are paying the support staff an hourly wage. I think they are purely paying them based on our tip out. It all seems very illegal and highly unethical. The servers that have been there awhile put up with it and haven't said anything because they were making upwards of $200 per night when they started there. These days, due to the economy, we are lucky to make $100 per shift, so the enormous tip out is putting a huge dent in our income.

I was hoping there was a guideline or law against forcing servers to tip out, or at least a cap on the amount. Since there isn't, I don't think there is much I can do here short of reporting them for illegal activities which is a road I really don't want to go down. It's easier to just find another place to work!

I appreciate any advice you have to offer.

Thank you,

Name Removed for Privacy


There are basically two separate groups of laws at play here; Florida state laws and Federal FLSA (Fair Labor and Standards Act) laws.

Federal law requires employers to pay workers a minimum wage. If the employee earns tips as part of their wages, federal law allow the employer to take a tip credit in the amount of $3.02/hr. The State of Florida requires employers to pay an hourly wage rate which is higher than the federal minimum wage, however, the employer can still take the tip credit against the higher Florida wage rate. Currently the minimum wage in Florida is $7.17/hr. Subtract the $3.02 tip credit and you get $4.15/hr. Employers must pay all of their employees at least one of these two hourly wages.

If the restaurant is forcing you to tip the house and then using the money to pay the support staff their hourly wages they are violating the FLSA. An employer must pay their employees at least the minimum wage. Since the employer does not have any type of property interest in your tips, they are not paying the support staff any type of wages.

There is an exception to this rule, however, the fact scenario above does not hint of the elements which would cause me to change my opinion.

There is not any type of official State or Federal guideline to how much an employer can force you to tip out the support staff, however, there is case law which suggests that tips are earned by servers as a part of their wages and that they should be the main beneficiary of those tips.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Federal Case Law on Tip Pools

I have made available a recent Federal Court FLSA case called JOHN WAJCMAN vs.PALM BEACH KENNEL CLUB. This case explains, in legal terms, many of the tip issues that restaurant workers ask me daily. Who may participate in a tip pool, what kind of damages can I recover, and can the management participate in the tip pool and take some of our hard earned money for themselves?

If you have any questions, please email me and I will do my best to answer them as quickly as possible.

Remember, ALL information that you share with me is Strictly Confidential!! The attorney/client privilege applies and I cannot share any of what you share with me, with anyone else, without your permission.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Craigslist and Discrimination

It seems that whenever I post "Hospitality Lawyer" information on Craigslist my post gets taken off the server. I can only guess that restaurant owners and managers are the persons flagging me. I wonder why that is?

For everyone that finds their way here. Please read through my posts and ask any questions you like. If you think you have been discriminated against please email me the details and we can then set up a time that is good for you for a phone interview.

Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin, LLC
22 NE 1st Street Suite 201
Miami Florida 33132

telephone - 305.358.6800

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Federal job discrimination complaints hit record

WASHINGTON – A record number of workers filed federal job discrimination complaints last year, with claims of unfair treatment by older employees seeing the largest increase.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday it received more than 95,000 discrimination claims during the 2008 fiscal year, a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

Charges of age discrimination jumped by 28.7 percent — with 24,582 claims — while allegations based on race, sex and retaliation also surged to record highs.

"The EEOC has not seen an increase of this magnitude in charges filed for many years," said the commission's acting chairman, Stuart J. Ishimaru. "While we do not know if it signifies a trend, it is clear that employment discrimination remains a persistent problem."

With the economy in recession and companies shedding millions of jobs, labor experts suggested that older workers may have suffered a disproportionate hit. Federal laws barring age discrimination cover workers 40 and older.

"The economy is in meltdown mode and from the point of view of the company, if you lay off an older worker, the cost savings to you are much greater than if you lay off a younger worker," said Eileen Appelbaum, visiting scholar at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Allegations of race discrimination remained the most frequently filed complaint, accounting for 33,937 charges, or 35.6 percent of all filings last year. That was an 11 percent jump from 2007.

Retaliation was the second most frequent complaint, up 22.6 percent from the previous year. Sex discrimination complaints rose by 14 percent.

The agency says the overall surge could be due to a variety of factors, including economic conditions, increased diversity in the work force, greater employee awareness of the law and the EEOC's focus on systemic litigation.

And the number of claims could rise even further, said EEOC spokesman David Grinberg. Since the current data is through Sept. 30 of last year, the numbers may not fully reflect the impact of the recession.

Once a claim is filed, the EEOC has 180 days to investigate. If the agency finds merit, officials usually try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If no settlement is reached, the EEOC or the worker may file a separate lawsuit.

In fiscal 2008, the EEOC filed 290 lawsuits, resolved 339 lawsuits and resolved 81,081 private sector charges.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top UK restaurant closed as 400 diners taken ill

LONDON (Reuters Life!) – British health officials said on Friday they were investigating 400 potential cases of food poisoning linked to top-rated Fat Duck restaurant, run by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

The award-winning restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, is known for its chemistry-inspired dishes such as bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge, with many courses frozen in liquid nitrogen.

Blumenthal voluntarily closed the restaurant last month after around 40 diners complained of diarrhea and vomiting.

The Health Protection Agency said the number had risen to 400 after media coverage of its investigation.

"This is a very complex outbreak," said Graham Bickler, a regional director at the agency.

The agency said its probe would extend to all those who had eaten at the restaurant since late January, whether they reported being ill or not.

The restaurant, which has had a three-star rating from the Michelin guide since 2004, is co-operating fully with the investigation, the agency said.

Diners often wait months for a reservation at the Fat Duck, which seats 40 people and charges 130 pounds ($185) a head for its 17-course tasting menu.

Blumenthal has said he is mystified by the outbreak, as the restaurant conducts weekly infection tests and nothing has been discovered.

"It was out of the blue ... I'm as fastidious about the hygiene side of things as I am about the actual cooking processes," he told the Guardian website in a video interview.

"The last thing you want is somebody to leave the restaurant with so much as a slight headache."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Calamari's Italian Seafood

The name of the new Coconut Grove restaurant that I at first said was Carpaccio In the Grove is now Calamari's Italian Seafood. I have confirmed it is going to open soon, however, I do not have an exact date yet. When I do have one I will list it here.

As I said before, Tommy Bilante is a great restaurateur and if I was still in the restaurant business I would be asking for a management job at this place.

If anyone knows of any other new restaurants opening who need staff or any restaurant for that matter who is hiring, please email me so I can post the information here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Great Restaurant Opening in Coconut Grove!

For all of you job seekers out there and for those of you who think it is time to move out and up to a new better job, there is a new great restaurant opening in Coconut Grove. The prospective name of the new place is Carpaccio Grove.

I have worked for Tommy Bilante in three of his many restaurants and let me tell you, this guy knows what he is doing. Some of his more famous places are Carpaccio at the shops of Bal Harbor, Luna Cafe on Biscayne, and the only restaurant that is doing anything at Merrick Park in Coral Gables, Villagio.

Tommy runs a class act and hires only the best of the best. The restaurant staff he hires is always diverse in age, sex, and ethnicity. If the EEOC handed out an award for best hiring practices in South Florida, Tommy would win it every year.

I do not have an opening date for the new place, however, I will contact him and see what I can learn.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Florida Restaurant Law Website Debuts

I went ahead and uploaded the Florida Restaurant law website. On the website you will find many answers to many everyday questions. Two large areas of the law that I have covered are the Fair Labor and Standards Act ("FLSA") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

I plan on refining the website over the next few weeks. Any suggestions will be gladly appreciated.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No Kissing?

No kissing, please, we're British

5 days ago

WARRINGTON, England (AFP) — A British train station has erected a no kissing sign to stop lovers going full steam ahead with their over-amorous farewells.

Commuters have been told: if you want to get up to that kind of business, do it in the car park.

The sign has gone up at the drop-off point at Warrington Bank Quay station in the town of Warrington, between Liverpool and Manchester in northwest England.

A man in a hat and a woman with a curly-looking hair-do puckering up show people where they must not indulge in full-on lip-locking.

A similar sign, this time permitting kissing, has been erected elsewhere in a zone where smooching is considered tolerable.

"We have not banned kissing in the station," said a spokesman for operators Virgin Rail.

"But we have put the sign up at the drop-off point because it is not a very big area and it often gets busy with lots of traffic.

"The sign is a light-hearted way of getting people to move on quickly.

"If people wish to spend a little more time with their loved ones before they leave, then they should park in the short-stay car park nearby."

The busy station links the town with the major cities London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester.

The 1945 film "Brief Encounter" immortalised forbidden love on the platform in stiff-upper-lip Britain while railway romance has been encapsulated in a statue at London's revamped St Pancras station, opened last year.

However, one station is trying to rescue love from the tracks.

High Wycombe, northwest of London, is having none of it and is actively urging commuters to get frisky.

"Kissing is welcome here! ... we would never dream of banning kissing," says a poster of a cartoon couple embracing, framed by a pink heart.

"Railway stations are romantic places," insisted Kirsteen Robertson from Chiltern Railways.

"They are where fond farewells and emotional reunions take place, where relationships start with a glance and even, in the case of our Marylebone station last November, where one passenger will propose to another over the public address system.

"So our passengers are more than welcome to share a kiss in our stations."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Travel to Greece at Anise Taverna

One of my favorite restaurants was written up (the good kind) in the Miami Herald today!!

Simplicity rules at the third incarnation of Ouzo, a Normandy Isle darling that was done in by road construction after it relocated to South Beach. Now called Anise Waterfront Taverna, the Greek restaurant resembles a Mykonos hangout. Part a curtain of translucent capiz shells and take a seat at a rustic wood table in the simply appointed white dining room or head for the deck seats overlooking the Little River Canal.

Owners Liza and Gennaro ''Gigi'' Meoli met at the 71st Street original and married two years ago. She grew up the restaurant business in Sydney, Australia, before landing in Miami in 1993 as a flamenco dancer. They found their charming new spot (the original home of Renaisa Indian restaurant) for sale on Craigslist and fixed it up, adding a pocket bar.

The menu is inspired by their Greek, French and Italian heritages. (Gigi grew up in France, the son of a French dancer and Italian-American musician.) The Argentine chef, Pablo Cittadnia, contributes dishes like potato gnocchi in rabbit ragu and fettuccini with minced lamb, mint and garlic in yogurt sauce.

The place is named for the anise seeds that give ouzo its licorice flavor. When mixed with water or ice it turns cloudy, as you'll see when a small complimentary glass is served after dinner as a digestive.

About half the menu consists of sharable mezze. Grilled chopped octopus tentacles drizzled with lemon, olive oil and oregano; crispy fried smelts; mussels steamed in ouzo; grilled Portuguese sardines with lemon herb sauce; keftedes (grilled meatballs made from lean ground beef with yogurt dip) and baked eggplant rolls stuffed with feta in homemade plum tomato sauce are among the options.

Fresh whole fish (flown from Italy and Greece by an international distributor) include branzini (sea bass) and dorado (sea bream). The fish are brought to the table for inspection, cooked and fileted at the table by Gigi. Have it roasted with raisins, pine nuts and rosemary in balsamic reduction.

There's also bouillabaisse with mixed fish and shellfish in fennel and white wine broth with grilled herb baguette for soaking up the soup, lamb shank braised in red wine served over rice pilaf, and a light version of moussaka with half the béchamel usually used to make the eggplant and beef casserole.

Liza's mom makes the desserts, including a scrumptious coconut cake soaked in sugar syrup. On busy nights when the mood strikes, Liza dances the Zorba and smashes plates. Kali orexi! (Bon appetit!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Romance At Work

'Love contracts' help employers avoid the pitfalls of romances at work

When love blooms at work, “love contracts” may follow.

Dating often begins with hearts and flowers and Valentine’s Day cards, but it’s been known to end with harassment, retaliation claims and jury trials.

To protect themselves against lawsuits, some employers have begun asking co-workers to sign written confirmations that they have entered into voluntary relationships.

These formal documents typically affirm that “neither party wants their relationship with each other to affect their jobs or the company in any way.” Employees agree to abide by company-conduct policies while dating and after the relationship ends.

“It makes sense, even if your first reaction is, ‘Aw, come on, give me a break,’ ” said Brian Finucane, a lawyer in the Kansas City office of Fisher & Phillips, which has had a few workers in client companies sign such documents.

Finucane and other lawyers said they expect love contracts to proliferate.

Lost-love litigation isn’t common, but when it hits, it can result in six-figure — and sometimes larger — jury awards for actual and punitive damages.

“I have a visceral distaste for the name, but, yes, I’ve had a handful of love contracts signed in the metro area,” said Shelly Freeman, a lawyer with HROI, an employment law practice.

Human resource experts say it makes good business sense to get written acknowledgement that a workplace relationship is consensual. They point to such well-publicized cases as the 2005 ouster of the CEO of Boeing Co., whose board fired him after directors learned of his affair with a woman executive.

Staples Inc., Tyco International and Bendix Corp. also have been rocked by high-profile executive-employee liaisons.

Yet in the lower echelons of the workplace, co-worker dating flourishes.

According to CareerBuilder. com, 40 percent of 8,038 workers surveyed in November said they had dated a co-worker at some point in their work lives.

About three-fourths of the respondents said they dated openly and didn’t feel a need to keep it secret. It is a rare company these days that forbids co-worker relationships, but many do prohibit one romantically connected partner from supervising the other.

Longer hours on the job and fewer single-sex workplaces have increased the likelihood of office romances. That in itself isn’t a bad thing. After all, the CareerBuilder survey found that nearly one-third of the office romances ended up at the altar.

What makes employment law attorneys and human resource officers especially nervous is when they learn an employee is dating his or her boss, as did about four in 10 of the intraoffice daters who were polled.

That is the kind of relationship that, if it fails, has led to charges alleging sex for favors and other violations of workplace policies and laws.

And that is where, if the romance is revealed, a lawyer is most likely to plop a love contract on the conference room table.

The documents usually are signed by both workers, who acknowledge that they understand all the workplace policies against harassment and will keep the relationship at arm’s length — literally and figuratively — in the office.

“As a lawyer, this piece of paper would be a gold mine of evidence for an employer,” Finucane said. “It’s almost a get-out-of-jail-free defense, from a lawyer’s perspective.”

The Kansas City Star

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grouper, Catfish; What Am I Eating Here?

You ordered grouper ...

... but what ends up on your plate might be catfish or another whitefish mislabeled by unscrupulous businesses.

Buy it whole if you can: Billy Cissel, owner of Billy's Boat House Grill, starts by buying an 18-pound Grey grouper for $92 from a seafood distributor in Mayport. Buying a whole fish is the most foolproof way of getting grouper. Grey grouper is the kind fisherman catch off Jacksonville's coast. In the Gulf of Mexico, fisherman catch red grouper.

Carving the fish: Cissel carves out 8 pounds of fillets. That translates to a cost of $11.50 per pound for his purchase price of $92 for the fish. If he had bought the fish already cut into fillets, the price would have been $12.95 a pound for fresh-caught grouper.

How can people be sure it's grouper in fillet form? For starters, it should be a whitefish. Cissel said he also looks for hairline streaks of red in the meat. Grouper is a big fish, so the fillets should likewise be thick. He said if a seafood market is selling grouper for less than $9 per pound, he's skeptical whether it's really grouper.

What's in the sandwich? Cissel fries a half-pound of grouper for a sandwich. The order of grouper sandwich and french fries will sell for $15 to $16. Cissel said a chef could take most kinds of whitefish and prepare a tasty sandwich. The more fish is fried, blackened and covered in sauces, the less its natural flavor stands out. A similar portion of grouper on a dinner plate will cost around $18.
"Everyone wants to be sure that they're getting grouper, and it's going to be harder to get," said Robert Rukab, owner of St. Johns Seafood and Steaks, a restaurant chain based in Jacksonville.

Grouper is a prize catch because diners like its mild flavor and white, flaky meat. Florida is known for grouper because it's caught in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the fish also comes into the state from all over the world. Seventy different species of grouper are imported into the United States, including Asian grouper that sells at half the cost of the kind caught in Florida.

On top of that trade, unscrupulous businesses sell cheaper fish under the grouper name, said Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, which represents Florida fisheries, importers and exporters.

"It's going to rattle the consumer's confidence in fish," he said. "It's just not right for someone to pay for one thing and get something else."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Human Resouces at Carnival Cruise Lines Says "NO!"

I have a new client who use to work for Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami. He was was recently let go. In order to evaluate his claim of wrongful termination I needed to see his employment contract with Carnival.

Not a problem right? Just call over to Carnival human resources and get a copy of it from his personal file. Not happening.

I was informed, as was my client, that you get one copy of the contract when you sign it. If you lose it, too bad. Even if you are still an employee you cannot get a copy of it. You can look through your personal file but you may not make any copies.

So, to make a long story short. If I want to get a copy of the contract I need to file suit against Carnival. How stupid is that? My client may not even have a claim. If I could review the contract I could properly advise him. Now I have no choice but to file some kind of lawsuit in order to properly evaluate my clients claims. What a waste of the court's time. You often hear that lawyers just sue everyone and have no scruples. Perhaps so do, but it is businesses like Carnival that force us in trying to ascertain a document our client signed.

Why is it that Carnival will not share their copies of a persons personal file? It no doubt has to do with the corporate "bottom line" and making money for their stockholders. Oh yeah, and paying their executives seven digit salaries each year too.