Ultreia has a novel idea for evening wages.
Ultreia has a novel idea for evening wages.

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage

Ask Denver chefs about challenges in this city’s burgeoning restaurant industry, and one theme will come up over and over: We have a major talent crunch in the kitchen. “There are not enough cooks in this town,” Frank Bonanno said bluntly last summer. And while Colorado's minimum wage went up this week, it won't ease the pressures that Denver restaurants are feeling. In fact, it might only aggravate the challenge of balancing front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house pay, as Laura Shunk reported this week.

And readers have served up plenty of food for thought about the situation. Says Sylvia: 

What are they paying cooks these days? Not a living wage. They don’t get tips, stand in a hot kitchen for eight or more hours, get no paid vacation and on and on. If employers would treat their employees better —like how about a break during the day/night? — retaining employees would be easier. Basic management.

Adds Erik:

I was formerly a cook in Denver, and that was the major driving factor for me going back to school and getting a different career. It's hard to survive in this city on $11 an hour. I hit a point where I flatlined on my pay, cause I could not get anymore raises, and there was no room to move up.

Comments Gregory: 

Servers don't deserve to make $60,000/yr. They are literally just food runners; the most difficult part of the job is remembering orders and that's easily fixed by carrying around a small pad of paper and a pen.

Theresa concludes: 

 Most people either don't tip — or tip poorly — so leveling out the wage in-house and not relying so much on pay that won't show (or is used against your wages later) seems at least worth trying out.

At the least, it might keep the place out of a pissing contest. It's not each other any worker should be upset at. If a cook makes less because a server had a good night, it's not really on either of them to fix that alone.

Keep reading for more of our coverage of restaurant pay.

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage
Danielle Lirette

"With Rising Wages and a Talent Shortage, Denver's Kitchens Are Feeling the Crunch"

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage
Scott Lentz

"Duo Adds 'Livable Wage Surcharge' to Help Reduce Wage Gap"

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage
Danielle Lirette

"Before Danny Meyer Banned Tipping, Zoe Ma Ma Was Trying a Variation"

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage
Colorado Families for a Fair Wage

"Why You Should Vote Yes on Amendment 70 to Raise the Minimum Wage"

Reader: Denver Restaurants Aren't Paying Cooks a Living Wage
Keep Colorado Working

"Why You Should Vote No on Amendment 70 to Raise the Minimum Wage"

While the labor shortage plagues both the front and back of the house, it’s felt more sharply in the back. That’s thanks, at least in part, to a growing disparity in wages between servers and cooks. In short, restaurateurs just can’t pay back-of-house staffers enough, explains Sonia Riggs, executive director of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “Wages are already high because of market reasons — I’ve heard stories of starting dishwashers with no experience at $15 an hour,” she says. Meanwhile, in the same restaurants, servers may make $35 to $50 an hour because the majority of their wages come from tips.

On January 1, 2018, minimum wage for both tipped and un-tipped workers in Colorado rose by 90 cents, to $7.18 and $10.20, respectively. It will rise by 90 cents again in 2019, and one more time in 2020, to $12 an hour ($8.98 for tipped workers), to meet the standards set by Amendment 70, which the state’s voters approved in November 2016. Most of the restaurant industry opposed the measure for one reason: Because kitchen staffers in the state’s independent restaurants are generally paid more than minimum wage, the amendment had the effect of giving servers a raise — without touching the incomes of the back-of-the-house staff, where restaurateurs feel an acute need to redirect money.

How are restaurateurs solving the problem? Some are following the lead of New York's Danny Meyer and building the tip into the tab, then creating a tipping pool. Others, like Duo, are adding service charges to the bill. Ultreia, which just opened last month in Union Station, has come up with a particularly novel idea: It's adding a 2 percent charge to the price of each item on the menu, then sharing the wealth.

What do you think restaurants should do to close the wage gap? Post a comment or send a note to cafe@westword.com.

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