Study Hall 101, an American restaurant and bar in Kingston, is causing a lot of chatter due to a few charges that appear at the bottom of customers' checks. Several patrons have taken to social media in opposition to the added fees, but the owner stands behind his business model, calling it a “solution” to the wage disparity in the restaurant industry.

Derek Jay Alten has been in the restaurant industry since 2001 and has brought struggling restaurants back to life, time and time again, but Study Hall 101 is his first restaurant of his own. He and his wife Melissa had one mission in mind for it.

“The reason my wife and I opened this place was to give back and take care of people, and make the restaurant industry a little more rewarding,” he explained.

Balancing Out the Wage Gap Between the Front and Back of the House

He decided to implement two charges on every bill, which are prominent on the website, menus, and checks themselves. One is called the “kitchen appreciation” fee, which is a five percent tax and goes directly to the workers in the back of the house and is divided amongst the staff based on their hours worked.

“By doing this, we ensure the wage gap is essentially eliminated and we demonstrate to our team that each position at the restaurant is truly valued,” Alten said.

When a bartender or server works six hours, they have the ability to collect tips. If a kitchen staff member works six hours, they are only allowed their hourly rate. The appreciation fee balances that out.

Providing Medical Benefits for Restaurant Staff

The other fee is called the "benefits" fee, which is a 2.5 percent tax that helps provide medical and dental benefits to not just full-time workers, but to all workers in the restaurant.

“We’re a mom-and-pop shop,” Alten said. “We don’t have to offer medical and dental, but we want to give back and take care of our team. In turn, we have the sweetest, nicest, and caring people we could ask for, and more applicants than I can interview.”

Yes, the Owners Pay a Portion of the Benefits, Too

Well, why can’t the owner pay for all of that, why does the customer have to pay for that? is the biggest complaint floating around Kingston. But the truth is, Alten is paying 50 percent of the premium when it comes to each insurance policy. He is also paying his workers higher wages than competing restaurants.

“On average, we pay four and five dollars more an hour than other restaurants in this area,” he said.

Don’t forget, servers make below minimum wage due to tip collection. They survive on the grace of their customers. Alten looks to take that stress out of the equation.

Why Doesn't Study Hall 101 Just Leave It to the Customers to Decide?

Do you not trust your patrons to tip enough? is another big complaint.

“This is not a tip, this is not a gratuity, this is not a service charge, and this has nothing to do with paying people. The add-ons go toward making affordable living possible,” said Alten.

While seeing charges totaling over seven percent at the bottom of a bill may seem overzealous, it is important to remember that they are not there for the restaurant owners. They are there for the workers who keep the restaurant afloat.

Why Not Just Charge Higher Prices on the Menu and Take It Out of That?

Patrons have suggested just raising the menu prices, but by doing so, that money would be pooled into food and beverage costs instead of going into the hands of the servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff.

A Different Model to the Restaurant Business

People deserve to know where their money is going, and Alten is determined to be completely transparent with his forward-thinking business model to educate people on how these taxes allow his employees to have a better quality of life.

“I had a homeless team member in the back of the house, and he would hand me $500 dollars every week because I was the only person he trusted,” Alten said. “He just signed a lease on the first apartment he has ever had. It’s because of these fees.”

Alten is in it for his workers, from “family dinner” with his team at 3 p.m. every day to making sure the morale and culture of the building is filled with happy, motivated people. Alten and his wife aim to bring a sustainable lifestyle to restaurant workers.

The payroll model for restaurant workers has stayed the same for decades. It’s time to start taking care of our servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff, and the Alten family is excited to be a part of that change.

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