5 minutes with: Valeri Lucks

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Milwaukee-based PIE Inc., owner of Honeypie Café, Smallpie, Palomino and Honeypie Bakeshop, used the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic as a starting point to move from a traditional ‘pay tip’ to a pay structure based on the minimum …


PIE Inc., based in Milwaukee, owner of Honeypie Café, Smallpie, Palomino and Honeypie Bakeshop, used the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic as a starting point to move from a traditional ‘tip wage’ to a minimum wage based salary structure with a tip fair and non-discriminatory swimming pool for all employees. The move is part of a larger campaign in the restaurant industry to address historic wage disparities between room service workers and room service workers. BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Maredithe Meyer recently sat down with group CEO Valeri Lucks to talk about the change and its effects on recruiting efforts.

What led to this decision?

“We’ve wanted to do something like this for quite a long time. It has been evident to us for many years that the compensation structure in the restaurant industry is not great, and you have seen different groups of restaurants over the past five plus years trying to address this disparity by eliminating tips so they can recover. internal salaries and service charges and other things that people have tried.

“We tried to find a solution to this ourselves, but we didn’t have the opportunity until the pandemic happened because we lost 75% of our workforce and had to completely change our business model. . It gave us that window of opportunity to erase the slate and start over, so we took that chance. As we started to rebuild from the pandemic, we didn’t want to go back to the old system. We found that this new system – higher wages for cleaning and the pooling of tips – worked very well. When we reopened, we redefined our job so that we didn’t have to revert to an old system that we thought had been broken for a long time.

How does tip pooling work?

“We take all the tips received during a pay period, put them in a big jar, and we distribute them equally among everyone who worked in that block of time according to their hours worked. This adds an additional number of dollars to their base salary. That way the whole team shares the tip that comes in which we thought was a good thing because if you think about it the waiter brings your sandwich to the table, but there are at least six or eight people who are involved in making and providing this sandwich, and they’re really left out of that equation when the tip is over.

What is the impact of the new compensation structure so far?

“Operating with a smaller team during the pandemic, it really gave us the chance to restructure our work to be more of a team operation, as opposed to this traditional division between the front and back-of-house.

“As we reopen Honeypie and expand our hours of operation at other restaurants, we are recruiting and hiring. We find that this model helps us in recruiting. It helps us in the back of the house because it brings in more money for the kitchen. From an internal perspective, we’ve found that for people who are professionals – and who enjoy being in this industry because they have a passion for food, they have a passion for service – this professionalizes the role. in a way that returns power to the server and service. It’s not just about working for $ 2 an hour, your pay being entirely determined by a guest over whom you have little control. For a waiter to really make a lot of money from the tip system, he has to work very high volume shifts – Thursday night, Friday night, weekend brunch. These hours are not conducive to the lives of a ton of people. … By using this tip pool, you can basically earn the same money on a Tuesday afternoon as you would on a Friday night.


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