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Andrea Borgen ’10 was named a 2016 Young Gun by Eater magazine for being a young talent and trailblazer in the food and restaurant industry. Barcito is a 100-seat Argentinian-style, small-plates restaurant in downtown Los Angeles with a no-tipping policy.
Borgen opened Barcito last year as a homage to her Argentinian heritage — her mother was born in the South American country and she visits both of her grandparents there regularly. "We’re not trying to recreate traditional Argentine cuisine," she says, adding that a more authentically minded establishment would grill a short rib rather than braise it like her kitchen does. But, as Borgen says, "what always appealed to me about bars and cafes in Buenos Aires is the cultural meaning that they have. Those classic corner bars are pillars of their communities." That’s what Barcito is all about.
Part of being a community pillar, of course, is being a responsible employer. Dishwashers at Barcito make at least $11 an hour while cooks make at least $14. All her employees also receive health care, even though the size of her staff (currently 12) means she isn’t required to by law. Borgen says she’s able to do this due to her no-tipping policy, and if you want to understand why this is such a big deal, you need to know a little bit about labor law in California.
The state minimum wage is rising to $15 per hour by 2022 —?? and at an even faster pace in LA. Making that burden more challenging is the fact that, unlike in most states, California doesn’t have a separate, lower wage for service employees, which means owners must pay waiters the full minimum, even if they earn tips. Obviously that’s super expensive for owners, who have to pay more money to more people (duh), but what’s less obvious is that it exacerbates the income disparity between waiters, who often do well for themselves because they can collect tips, and cooks, who often earn less because they cannot.
So to combat that disparity, more restaurateurs in Los Angeles are levying "mandatory tips" in the form of service or admin charges, which can be distributed throughout the house as the restaurant sees fit. On top of those charges, Los Angeles and San Francisco restaurants sometimes issue separate surcharges to offset the cost of providing health care, as well as additional lines on the check for optional, additional gratuity. This all means that the price on the menu is often much lower than what the diner ends up paying, and Borgen doesn’t think it’s a fair deal for consumers.
"It feels ludicrous," Borgen says of the health care charge. So she’s taken a more challenging course of action: She’s raised wages throughout her restaurant by baking the full cost of doing business — including health care and service — into the price of her a la carte items, so that whatever the diner sees on the menu is what the diner pays. Tipping is not accepted. This Danny Meyer-style "hospitality included" policy is increasingly normal in New York, where supplementary fees are illegal, but in California, it’s quite rare, because it lets restaurants keep their prices artificially low.
"At the core, what’s most important to me is the idea that a restaurant is a pillar of the community."