Monday, February 27, 2012

Banker's One Percent Tip (1%) On $133.54 Check; "Get A Real Job"

(LAIST) In the food service industry, bad tippers sometimes live on in infamy. Entire books have been written about the plight of the waiter or waitress who gets left pennies that don't come near the standard 15-20% tip that is typical on a dining check.

One diner at a Newport Beach restaurant, however, used a recent $133.54 tab to express his disdain for his server's line of work by leaving a 1% tip and a note: "GET A REAL JOB."

According to the anonymous blogger of a just-launched site called Future Ex-Banker, his boss at a very large corporate bank hates hearing about the "99%" represented by the Occupy movement and shows his hatred by tipping a measly 1%.

To illustrate this, Future Ex-Banker posted a photo of a recent receipt from True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach showing his boss' meager tip and "advice" for a server named Breanna.

The blogger writes: "Mention the “99%” in my boss’ presence and feel his wrath. So proudly does he wear his 1% badge of honor that he tips exactly 1% every time he feels the server doesn’t sufficiently bow down to his Holiness. Oh, and he always makes sure to include a “tip” of his own."

A hostess who picked up the phone at True Food Kitchen said she had heard about the receipt, but she wouldn't say whether it was real or whether the workers remembered a customer like this.

"I am aware, but we have no statement on the issue," she said. "I'm not sure if it's a fake or not."

She did, however, confirm that the restaurant employs a waitress named Breanna, who is listed on the receipt.

Here is a pdf of the Blog from Future Ex Banker: Future Ex Banker Blog

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chow v. Chow; The Final Countdown to World Domination

After four weeks of contentious and at times personal testimony, the legal tussle between two swanky Chinese restaurants in South Beach is finally in the hands of a federal jury, which will soon decide if there’s room in this town for more than one “Chow.”

Attorneys on behalf of plaintiff Michael Chow, owner of the famed Mr. Chow chain of eateries, and co-defendant Philippe Chow — a one-time Michael Chow disciple who created his own eponymous restaurant franchise in 2005 — gave closing arguments in a Miami courtroom with markedly different styles Thursday, each making one last sales pitch before the jury decides the companies’ fates.

Michael Chow has sued his former protégé (no relation) and Stratis Morfogen, Philippe Chow’s money man, on grounds they stole Mr. Chow’s popular menu, recipes and ambiance — and ultimately his customers. Michael Chow has asked for more than $20 million in damages, a sum that would all but destroy his top competition, a string of restaurants known as Philippe by Philippe Chow.

Philippe Chow and Morfogen have counter-sued, claiming Michael Chow defamed his ex-pupil in the press. They contend that Chow instructed his former attorney, Alan Kluger, to tell a Miami Herald gossip blogger that Philippe was “a fraud” who was nothing but a food chopper while working in Mr. Chow’s kitchen. In closing, defense attorney Anthony Accetta asked the jury for $25 million in punitive damages for this affront.

Thursday, Michael Chow’s current attorney Bert Fields doubled down on the “fraud” accusation, saying that Philippe Chow — through Morfogen — habitually misrepresented himself to the public.

“[Morfogen] repeatedly said that Philippe Chow was the architect of Mr. Chow’s menu, the mastermind behind his dishes,” said Fields, whose measured, even-keeled delivery had the feel of a grandfather reciting a shopping list.

“He’s someone who tried to hitch a ride on someone else’s property. He essentially destroyed Mr. Chow’s business in New York.”

Accetta approached things differently, playing on the jurors’ heartstrings. He depicted Philippe Chow as the embodiment of the American Dream — escaping mainland China for Hong Kong in search of a better life; then later moving to New York and working for decades in Mr. Chow’s kitchen before finally going out on his own.

Along the way, he legally changed his name from Chak Yam Chau to the more-Westernized Philippe Chow — a change that Michael Chow claims impinges on his trademark rights.

“There was no plan to steal, no plan to cheat, and no plan to lie,” Accetta said. “There’s only one person that’s a liar, and that’s Michael Chow.”

Legal experts from across the country have watched with keen interest due to its unique trademark infringement aspect, but Fields spent little of his 90-minute close on that aspect of the case. Rather, he focused predominantly on the false advertising count. Their claim: Morfogen passed his prized employee off as the brains behind Mr. Chow, but Philippe Chow was never the restaurant’s first or even second chef, but rather acted as a substitute chef and food chopper.

“He didn’t create one dish, and has since admitted as much,” Fields said.

The trial’s list of witnesses looked more like a roster of guest lecturers at a culinary institute. Cooks and maitre d’s spent the last month arguing about the authenticity of recipes, and many of Philippe Chow’s employees filled Judge William Hoeveler’s federal courtroom Thursday, some in their kitchen attire, while Accetta made his final plea.

A verdict is not expected before Tuesday.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Senate bill could cut hourly wages of servers, bartenders in Florida

A bill that would cut the hourly wages of many waiters and waitresses was unveiled Tuesday by a Florida Senate committee in Tallahassee.

The bill (SPB 7201) would slash Florida's minimum wage for tipped workers — now $4.65 an hour — to the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 for companies that agree to guarantee that with wages and tips their employees will make at least $9.98 an hour.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is urging legislators to pass the bill. The trade group says Florida's tipped minimum is crippling eateries financially, causing companies to cut back workforces and open fewer restaurants in Florida.

Combined with rising costs of food, insurance and implementing the new federal health-care law, "it's going to be a matter of time before the back of this industry breaks," said Carol Dover, chief executive officer of the trade group. "Minimum wage is killing them."

But critics say the bill, which was introduced in the Senate's commerce and tourism committee but not voted upon, will take money from workers who cannot afford it.

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"Anything that reduces people's wages is not what we need right now," said Emily Eisenhauer, an associate with the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University.

In Florida, the average hourly wage for a waiter or waitress is just under $10 per hour, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dover argues that many make much more than that, and Florida's current system is "just a very unfair model, when you're looking at an employee who makes way over the minimum wage."

Dover pointed out that companies opting to pay the $2.13 rate would have to guarantee all their tipped employees are making at least 130 percent of the state's minimum wage. If any employees fall short of that figure – now $9.98 – the companies have to make up the difference.

The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for lower-wage workers, says the bill appears unconstitutional. A state constitutional amendment establishing minimum wages and raising them each year to keep pace with the cost of living was approved by Florida voters in 2004.

Under that amendment, both the standard and tipped minimum wage rise by the same amount each year, based on inflation. This year it rose 36 cents to $7.67.

State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, scoffed at the notion that the minimum wage is keeping restaurants from opening.

"Consumer demand is what drives business," he said. "If consumer demand is good in Florida, they're going to continue to open up restaurants."

A spokesman for Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, the world's largest casual-dining company, said the company did not know about the bill until the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association sent out an alert to its members Monday. Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company did not want to comment because it is still studying it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Darden Restaurants Inc. and Accused of Discrimination

(Reuters) - A restaurant workers group said it will sue Darden Restaurants Inc in federal court in Chicago on Tuesday, accusing the company's high-end Capital Grille steakhouse chain of racial discrimination and violations of state and federal labor laws.

The action will pit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a vocal advocate on industry wages and working conditions, against one of the largest and most respected U.S. restaurant companies.

The lawsuit will charge that white workers have lucrative "front-of-house" positions such as waiter or bartender, while many lower paying "back-of-the-house" jobs like washing dishes or preparing food are given to people of color, said ROC, which will bring the lawsuit on behalf of members who are Capital Grille employees in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.

The complaint also will allege that Capital Grille forced employees to work without pay, did not provide rest breaks to workers and forced tipped employees to share their tips with non-tipped workers, ROC said.

"Restaurant workers deserve a living wage and to be treated with dignity," said Daisy Chung, co-director of ROC of New York.

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company repeatedly has asked ROC for details about the allegations and that it has received no response.

"If they have something specific, we want to look into it," said Jeffers, who added that Darden employees have multiple channels for filing grievances against the company.

Darden is the nation's largest full-service restaurant operator, with more than 1,900 outlets and about 179,000 employees in the United States and Canada.

Best known for its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, it is considered to be one of the country's best-run restaurant companies. It also is one of the few large U.S. corporations led by a chief executive who is a minority.

Darden's roughly 45 Capital Grille steakhouses are the most upscale eateries in the company's portfolio.

"Darden Restaurants is very proud of the work environment that it creates for employees," said Jeffers, who added that the Orlando-based company made Fortune magazine's list of "100 best companies to work for" in 2011 and 2012.

Restaurant workers account for nearly one in 12 U.S. private sector employees, according to ROC, which says its mission is to improve compensation and working conditions for low-wage restaurant employees.

Lawsuits over wages are not uncommon in the U.S. restaurant industry. ROC, which organizes workers but is not a union, has sued and picketed numerous restaurants as part of its advocacy work.

Most notably, it recently has been involved in a high-profile legal skirmish with celebrity chef Mario Batali, whose restaurants include Del Posto in New York City and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Matt Driskill)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fighting Over "Discriminatory" Business Practices; Who Can Best Objectify Women? Hooters, Twin Peaks?

WASHINGTON -- Hooters, the restaurant chain famous for its scantily clad Hooters Girls, sued the partner of an upstart rival in Georgia federal court this week, accusing the company developing Twin Peaks restaurants and a former Hooters executive of stealing trade secrets in their bid to take on the “delightfully tacky yet unrefined” restaurant chain.

In their lawsuit, Hooters claims that Joseph Hummel, former Hooters vice president, jumped ship to help develop the similarly themed Twin Peaks restaurants (motto: “Eats, Drinks, Scenic Views”) in July and took “sensitive business information” with him. The alleged trade secrets apparently involve more than just skimpy waitress outfits. According to the suit, in the weeks leading up to his departure to Twin Peaks development partner La Cima Restaurants, Hummel downloaded and emailed to his private account a “substantial volume” of Hooters documents, including plans related to management, recruitment, distribution and sales.

Although Hooters has more than 400 locations throughout the country, the two so-called breastaurant companies could soon have a rivalry in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast. According to the lawsuit, Hummel’s departure coincided with a number of other high-ranking defections from Hooters to La Cima, including former Hooters CEO Coby Brooks. Hummel is now chief operating officer at La Cima, which, like Hooters, is based in Atlanta.

A lawyer for Hooters referred questions to a Hooters spokesman, who could not be reached. A lawyer for La Cima did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Twin Peaks currently has 15 restaurants in five states, but last month it announced plans to open 35 franchises throughout the Southeast over the course of the next decade. Judging from the company’s website, the restaurants share many similarities with the better-known Hooters -- namely, chicken wings in the fryer, Ultimate Fighting Championship fights on the big screen, and precious little clothing on the servers. But whereas Hooters waitresses don the trademark white tank tops and orange short shorts, Twin Peaks servers tend to wear a mountain-themed ensemble of flannel bikini-like tops paired with tan hiker shorts.

In the lawsuit, Hooters says their “iconic” Hooters Girls are the “cornerstone of the [Hooters] concept,” and notes that “Twin Peaks directly competes with [Hooters] in the market of casual dining restaurants with an all female waitstaff.” Hummel recently told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that within the next seven years Twin Peaks expects to launch as many as seven franchises in the Atlanta area, going head to head with Hooters at its core. He also said the chain would differentiate itself from its competitor, saying Twin Peaks “brings a different feel, a different makeup of food.”

In their efforts to expand, Twin Peaks has apparently had a hard time avoiding lawsuits with other restaurants whose names play on breasts. In 2009, the chain’s parent company sued a competitor called Grand Tetons LLC in federal court in Texas, claiming that the company’s plans to open a restaurant in Arkansas called Northern Exposure infringed on Twin Peaks’ “trade dress.”

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

EEOC Files Age Discrimination Suit Against Texas Roadhouse

BOSTON – Texas Roadhouse, a national, Kentucky-based restaurant chain, has engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of age discrimination in hiring hourly, “front of the house” employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-11732-DJC, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleged that since at least 2007, Texas Roadhouse has been discriminating against a class of applicants for “front of the house” and other public, visible positions, such as servers, hosts, and bartenders, by failing to hire them because of their age, 40 years and older.

“The number of age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC has risen significantly over the years, which prompted the Commission to conduct a meeting on the subject last December” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the EEOC. “Denying jobs to qualified applicants who are over 40 years old on account of their age is illegal, and as we heard during the Commission meeting, it can have devastating consequences for older workers and their families.”

The EEOC alleged that Texas Roadhouse has hired significantly few “front of the house” employees 40 or older in age. In addition, Texas Roadhouse allegedly instructed its managers to hire younger job applicants. For example, Texas Roadhouse emphasized youth when training managers about hiring employees for its restaurants. All of the images of employees in its training and employment manuals are of young people.

“It is important in this difficult economic climate that we redouble our nation’s commitment to the principle of nondiscrimination in the workplace,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. “As a national law enforcement agency, the EEOC will vigorously protect the rights of job applicants to ensure that hiring decisions are based on abilities, not age.”

The Commission also alleged that Texas Roadhouse’s hiring officials have told older unsuccessful applicants across the nation that “there are younger people here who can grow with the company;” “you seem older to be applying for this job” and “do you think you would fit in?” Officials also said that the restaurant was “a younger set environment;” “we are looking for people on the younger side... but you have a lot of experience;” and “how do you feel about working with younger people?”

Age discrimination violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks monetary relief for all applicants denied employment because of their age, the adoption of strong policies and procedures to remedy and prevent age discrimination by Texas Roadhouse, training on discrimination for its managers and employees, and more.

“Restaurants may not refuse to consider older workers as applicants merely because of their age,” said Elizabeth Grossman, Regional Attorney for the New York District Office.

“Applicants rarely know that they have been denied a job because of their age,” added Mark Penzel, Senior Trial Attorney in EEOC’s Boston Office. “When the Commission uncovers such evidence, it will act aggressively to remedy the violation.”

Individuals who believe they may have been denied a position at Texas Roadhouse because of their age or who have any information that would be helpful to the EEOC’s suit against Texas Roadhouse should contact the EEOC toll free at             (855) 556-1129 or by e-mail at or contact the Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin at (305) 358-6800 or email at