At Leah & Louise, new 23% service charge is the start of addressing living wage for its workers

Owners of parent company, BayHaven Restaurant Group, say all future concepts will implement the new service fee model.

Changes are coming to Camp North End hot spot Leah & Louise in efforts to create a sustainable career for its workers. The most significant will see a 23% automatic service charge added to all guests’ checks beginning July 15.

In what’s being called the “BayHaven Pledge,” husband-and-wife team Greg and Subrina Collier say the move is part of changes to their BayHaven Restaurant Group business model — creating consistency for its staff no matter how slow business may be at Leah & Louise or any of its future concepts. 

The service charge will contribute to starting wages at $28 for front-of-house workers and $17 for kitchen staff. The commitment also allows for current staff and new hires after 90 days to receive health insurance, two weeks paid time off, 401(k) plans, bonuses and more.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about how to change the hospitality industry,” Greg said in a statement Monday. “We want to make sure our staff is treated as well as we treat our guests. We can’t be in the service industry and only serve ownership.”

He pointed out that the fee, which will replace traditional tipping, adds about $9.20 to a standard $40 check, without an increase on menu prices.

Though the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit by Covid-19, compensation has long been a topic of discussion around attracting and retaining workers. Workers’ narratives of long hours for little pay and lack of full benefits were exacerbated by the pandemic — with Black and Hispanic women experiencing disproportionate losses. Health risks, unemployment benefits and lack of childcare options are some of the reasons often cited why employees are sitting out or moving on from the industry. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two-thirds of the 292,000 hospitality jobs added nationwide in May were hired for restaurants and bars. However, the industry is still facing a 15% deficit, or down 2.5 million jobs, from pre-pandemic levels.

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The rapidly evolving hospitality industry coupled with the pandemic prompted Greg — a two-time James Beard award nominee — and Subrina — a 2020 James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellow — to start planning for changes several months ago. The Colliers recently formed the BayHaven Restaurant Group and announced the inaugural BayHaven Food & Wine Festival. With multiple concepts in the works over the next 18 months, Greg said it made sense to implement the BayHaven Pledge now. 

“We’ve always looked at ourselves as leaders in the food and beverage space, so we’re willing to pave the road ahead,” he added. “If restaurants don’t figure out a way to improve for their employees, they’ll continue to lose team members, service will suffer and their bottom lines will shrink. Now is the time for change.”

Leah & Louise will also make some menu changes, including transitioning from serving small plates only to offering both small and large plate menu items.

Katrina Louis
Katrina covers Charlotte's Black business scene for QCity Metro. She's a Miami transplant, pescatarian and lover of the arts. She earned a public relations degree from the University of Florida. Got a news tip? Email her at katrinalouis@qcitymetro.com.

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1 Comment

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  1. Fair pay for those in the food industry is a major problem but a 23% service fee is a little steep. Instead, I suggest you research how European restaurant owners pay their employees.
    Their waitstaff attend school for two years before they can work in a restaurant. At least that’s true in Berlin. Those workers know their customers and they recognize when someone new comes. The price of the food is not that much higher than it is here. I have no idea how the owners manage but the service overall is better, there’s less turnover and the servers are friendlier.
    My fear is exchanging tips for an automatic 23% service charge could be interpreted as forcing a 23% tip. Why not charge a 20% service fee and add 3% to menu items if that’s really how much is necessary for owners to pay their staff a good wage. As a patron, I would be more comfortable with a set 20% service fee that feels like a forced tip than with a forced tip of 23%.
    Just my 2 cents worth.

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