New York's 'best restaurant' agrees to pay wait staff $500,000 after investigation finds it withheld tips

One of Manhattan’s most expensive restaurants, Thomas Keller’s Per Se, home of the $US310 tasting menu, has reached a settlement with the New York Attorney General to pay $US500,000 to members of its wait staff after an inquiry found it withheld their tips.

“Today’s agreement ensures that workers at Per Se will not continue to be cheated out of their hard-earned tips — tips that customers intended for them,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement.

The settlement was reached following a 2013 investigation, which found the restaurant had pocketed the 20% service charges on private banquet and dining customers’ bills over a 21-month period in 2011 and 2012. Instead of going to the waiters — which, according to the AG’s Action of Decision (AOD), make between $US16.60 and $US28 per hour — the service fees were used for operational costs.

A press release from the Attorney General’s office states that a customer who emailed Per Se to ask whether the 20% service charge was, indeed, the waiter’s tip was told that “service/gratuity is certainly included in the pricing.”

The AOD states that the restaurant changed the wording on private-dining checks to reflect the fact that service charges were for operational costs, not gratuity, in September 2012.

A spokesperson for Per Se gave the following comment on the settlement:

In an unintentional oversight, Per Se, unaware of a new state regulation, did not update the description of the operational charge in its private dining event agreement during a 21-month period in 2011 and 2012. Nearly three years ago, in September 2012, Per Se modified this contract language at its own initiative and has been in compliance since that time.We have reached an agreement with the New York State Attorney General’s office to resolve this issue.

In 2011, The New York Times famously called Per Se “the best restaurant in New York City.”

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