Tip or tax? Some Newport restaurants add “kitchen appreciation” charge

NEWPORT, R.I. (WLNE) — Take any summer night in Newport, and city restaurants are slammed. For workers who get tips, that’s music to their ears, but for those who don’t, like line cooks, busy nights can be grueling, with the only reward being their modest hourly wage.

“They see the servers making money kind of hand over fist and working just as hard as they are, and they have to come in, do their exact same thing every single shift,” said Geralyn Burke, general manager of Perro Salado.

It’s that disparity that last year spurred Burke to try something she saw a handful of Boston restaurants already doing–adding a 1% “kitchen appreciation charge” to customers’ checks–which essentially translates to tips for the cooks.

“If you spend $100 it’s a dollar for you, but the guys at the end of the week, average is between 2 and 3 dollars more an hour for them, which is huge,” said Burke.

“This helps just put the idea in the guys’ mind that they’re getting something out of this busy night too,” said Perro Salado chef and owner Dan Hall.

Hall says he’s already seen a difference in his staff.

“I mean the guys are super happy about it,” said Hall. “It appears they’re just that much more eager to please.”

Nearby Mission soon followed Perro Salado’s lead, adding a 2% charge to their bills.

Dale Venturini, the head of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, tells me they haven’t taken a position on the charge just yet, but diners I spoke to say they’re okay with the idea.

“I think it’s fine to have the surcharge. It’s only one percent, and the kitchen staff, if they’re making minimum wage,” said Kim Davis.

“I think it’s a great idea especially if you love their food. I don’t have a problem with it at all,” said Carrie Schulte.

Schulte worries others may not be as gung ho, especially longtime residents

“I’m not really a local here, but where I’ve been a local before I might complain about a restaurant that I’ve been to over and over again, and all of a sudden they collect this new surcharge. It might ruffle my feathers a little bit,” said Schulte.

Burke and Hall admit there are alternatives, but argue they’re problematic. Having servers tip out the kitchen can result in bad blood, and just paying cooks more overall would result in higher prices.

“This just seemed to be the easiest route, that it was most transparent for everybody involved,” said Burke.

Restaurant industry officials in Rhode Island say they’re not familiar with any other restaurants that are doing a kitchen appreciation charge, but Hall says he hopes it will catch on.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2019