Denver restaurant charges ‘livable wage' surcharge

DENVER -- The words "fee" or "surcharge" are usually associated with negative things or things we hate to pay. But at a restaurant in the Denver Highlands, there is one price add-on that customers don't seem to mind. 

Inside Duo Restaurant, the kitchen staff is almost always busy. They're chopping, cutting, searing, grilling, sautéing something. But there is a problem. 

"The service staff can and often does make 50 to 100 percent more than what the kitchen staff can make," said restaurant owner Keith Arnold.

Like most restaurants, Duo has a wage gap between the "front" and the "back" of the house. 

"Because of the traditional tipping structure, it's causing the wages to be out of kilter," he said.

So, Arnold decided to change things to make things more even. 

"What we're doing is a 2 percent [surcharge]. What we’re calling a kitchen livable wage surcharge," he said. 

That means that everyone's bill at this restaurant will be going up 2 percent. One hundred percent of that money goes to the kitchen staff, divided among them by how many hours they work. 

"I think it'll help with bills," said Chef Amy Perlman, who is among the nine employees that work in the kitchen. "Maybe help get health insurance or something like that."

"The fare is trying to offset that, and bring it back to some sort of equal playing field," said Arnold.

So far, the surcharge hasn't drawn many negative reviews at all online, and the customers we spoke to were happy to pay it. 

"I think it's a great idea. I think most of the time people don't realize the people behind the scenes aren't given the kind of financial support that they well deserve," one customer told Denver7. 

And if this keeps going well, it could be coming to a restaurant near you.  

"I think this could take off," said Perlman. "Start something beneficial to a lot of the industry." 
 

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