The restaurant owner who’s ditching tips says she’s already lost servers over new policy

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Cara Stadler says she just wants to do the right thing.

On Tuesday, the owner of Portland’s Bao Bao Dumpling House and Tao Yuan in Brunswick announced her plan to jettison tips, pay all servers $15 an hour and tack on an 18 percent surcharge on checks. “Tips is such an arcane system. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Her motive, she says, is to “create stability in the workplace, because there is a disparity in pay.”

Though servers make a paltry $3.75 an hour, with gratuity a waiter/waitress at Tao Yuan can easily pull down “$30 to 40 an hour,” she said. “In some cases a server is making more than the cooks, the bartenders and even me.”

The hate mail came in fast, and a few servers have left, she said. “Many people write in saying ‘we will never come to your establishment again.’ I’ve been slandered online, saying we will take this money and put into our pockets,” she said. “It’s frustrating and hurtful.”

But Stadler is committed to the overhaul, which kicks in Dec. 1. She is looking at successful models by NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer and joins the soon-to-open Old Port takeout spot Baristas and Bites.

Why now? With a federal law on overtime pay kicking in soon she wants to create a fair and equal workplace. And with more revenue to train staff, she hopes to stem the serious chef drought plaguing the nation.

“This gives me the ability to invest in full-time employees and grow the company,” said Stadler, who wants to offer paid vacation, training and health insurance to all servers and full-time employees and eliminate anxiety on slow nights.

The move comes amid a statewide vote next month to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Stadler is getting a head start.

As one of the first full-service restaurant owners in Portland to nix tips, she is crossing her fingers her dream of a better workplace sticks. When her third establishment, wine restaurant Lio opens in Portland next summer, she will have a total of 70 employees to look after.

“There is a lot to figure out. This is not the be all end all. I’m trying to put in better systems,” she said. “This is the first step into that foray.”

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.