Photo Caption: A dollar bill, left as a tip, rests under an empty beer can at the bar at Casa Nueva on Friday.
Starting this Saturday, a popular Athens restaurant and bar will no longer accept tips.
The change in the Casa Nueva/Cantina's policy is being made to keep the business in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, a posting on the West State Street restaurant's website announced.
The FLSA "forbids businesses to pool and share tips among their entire staff," the announcement explained. This has long been the Casa's policy, unlike many restaurants and bars that allow individual employees to keep their tips rather than pooling and dividing them.
"In order for us to continue to pay everyone we work with a fair wage, keep control of our labor costs, be able to buy as much local product as we can, strengthen the economic well-being of our community and provide you with the best food and drink possible, we have made the difficult decision of raising our prices to do so," the posting further explained.
The restaurant had been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the pooling of tips, leading to the 29 worker-owners of Casa to decide last week to alter their policy, foregoing tipping but raising prices. This move will put the business back into compliance, though shifting to a more traditional "keep-your-tips" policy evidently also would have satisfied the federal agency.
"Casa Nueva has pooled and shared tips for the last 27 years," they acknowledged in the announcement. "We value each and every employee as an equal, which means that not only do service staff receive tips for their hard work, but the back of house does as well. Your greatly appreciated tips have really made our business work."
The policy had been for each person at the business to share the same base wage and then pool and distribute tips equally at the end of each pay period. Under the new policy, employees will still share the same base wage, and a percentage of the revenue from price increases will be distributed.
The Casa website states that the recent changes to the U.S. Department of Labor's FLSA has encouraged many businesses across the country to adopt no-tipping policies. This is reportedly common in some European countries.
"Raising our prices and no longer accepting tips is the only solution we see right now to adhere to our values and be in FLSA compliance," the worker-owners' statement said.
As for why Casa, and reportedly two other Athens restaurants, became the subject of investigation, the worker-owners said they don't know.
"As far as we know, no one on our staff filed a complaint, since all employees were made aware of our tip-pooling practices before they were hired," they wrote. "It appears that this is all part of the enforcement of the new tip credit regulations."
Along with the alterations of the menu to include service fees, a "detailed statement" has also been posted in the business's menus and around the restaurant.
"Many of the price increases are subtle, based on the previous tip averages and our cost of goods and labor expense," they wrote. "We know you might be experiencing some pricing shock, but remember that this price includes our cost of service to you and you can no longer leave a tip."
But what happens if a customer forgets the new policy and leaves a tip anyway?
"Casa will donate the money directly to a local charity of our choice," the worker-owners wrote. "If you forget and try to add a tip on your credit or debit card, you will notice that there is no longer a line to include a tip. Your waitron or bartender will also remind you that we no longer take tips as they bring you your check."
They added that while they know this is something new that will take getting used to, with the new pricing, customers' total out-of-pocket expense will "most likely remain about the same."
The worker-owners also reiterated their commitment to fairness to their employees, in defense of their previous tip-pooling policies.
"As a cooperative business, we do not want to favor one person's role over another, but rather pay a fair wage to everyone whether they are waiting, tending bar, cooking or doing dishes," they wrote. "We value versatility and job rotation. Our employees perform many different jobs that contribute to the success of our business."