January 12, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I don’t know if you heard, but something has hit the fan on the Louisville food scene.
Lynn’s Paradise Café has closed less than two weeks after a uproar began when a former employee aired her grievances about some of the restaurant’s new policies on WLKY’s Facebook page. The biggest point of contention is Lynn’s requirement for wait staff to carry $100 cash on them during each shift (read more here).
The Facebook comments opened the window for other Lynn’s employees to air their dirty laundry and speak out about their negative experiences at the restaurants. Other folks started stepping in to what was quickly transforming from one employee’s story to a labor dispute. There were even questions of legality about Lynn’s new guidelines.
Then, early Saturday morning, cafe owner Lynn Winter announced that she would close Lynn’s after a 22-year run.
Here is a rundown of the events that proceeded the closing (you can also find my story on WFPL.org):
Jan. 3: A former Lynn’s Paradise Café waitress writes on the WLKY Facebook wall that she was fired for violating a new policy at the restaurant. Leila DiFazio writes that the policy requires all food servers “to carry $100 cash for each shift to use to tip out support staff (bussers and food runners).” From DiFazio’s post:
First of all, the new policy is absolutely unrealistic. Anyone who can afford to have one hundred dollars cash on them at any given time probably doesn’t need to work as a server. …
There were memos placed around the restaurant for two weeks before (the new policy) took place and yes, we were allowed to talk to management about it, but no one would because of fear of losing their job. I am walking proof of losing my job because I questioned the new policy and could not adhere to it. Please, please, PLEASE join me in making this right and/or exposing the madness within “Paradise”.
Jan. 4: The dining website Eater Louisville picks up the story and writes about DiFazio’s Facebook post. Lynn Winter, the owner of the café, confirms the policy change to the website later that day. She tells Eater Louisville that the restaurant enacted the rule to ensure that the wait staff have “enough cash on hand to be able to tip the secondarily tipped people (buses, bartenders, foodrunners and expos) because I didn’t want them to say ‘I have no cash, I can’t tip you today…. What I’ve been hearing from them is that they were very very worried that they were going to get stiffed by the waitstaff because they wouldn’t have any cash at the end of the day because they got so many credit card tips.”
As an anonymous Eater commenter pointed out, however, this policy appears to violate two sections of KRS 337.065:
·(1) No employer shall require an employee to remit to the employer any gratuity, or any portion thereof, except for the purpose of withholding amounts required by federal or state law. ·(3)No employer shall require an employee to participate in a tip pool whereby the employee is required to remit to the pool any gratuity, or any portion thereof, for distribution among employees of the employer.
Jan. 10: The blog Insider Louisville disagrees with the Eater Louisville commenter that the practices at Lynn’s violate state law. Steve Coomes writes:
Problem is, the post points only to sections 1 and 3 of the law, not to section 4, which lays out the terms under which such tip sharing programs can be operated as voluntary arrangements between restaurants and their employees.
I am not familiar with the exact specifics of how Winters established her “bank” program, or with DiFazio’s firing, for that matter. But the fact is EVERYONE in this business plays by section 4. It’s simply the way it’s done: Servers get tipped, and they are expected to be honest in how they tip their assistants and bartenders. It’s a long-established and happy relationship based on the trickledown effect.
Jan. 11: Five alleged former Lynn’s employees write negative accounts of their time at the restaurant under the heading, “Far from Paradise: the Story Behind Lynn’s Café,” on the website for Service Workers for Justice. Statements include:
“My time at LPC was the most Kafkaesque experience under a Machiavellian reign of terror.”
“I feel like the hard work I put in for the company for almost a year has not been accounted for and I feel like I have been presented with a great injustice.”
“It took me months to become financially stable again and I’m still trying to deal emotionally and psychologically with everything I experienced there.”
According to the website, the group is composed of current and former Lynn’s employees who demand, among other requests, a reversal of the “$100 bank” policy and the job restoration of employees who were fired for speaking out against the policy.
Eater Louisville reports that the Service Workers for Justice website is backed by Kentucky Jobs with Justice, a coalition intended to “promote, protect and improve the quality of life of all workers by empowering individuals and organizations to engage in collective action for economic and social justice.”
WAVE 3 also begins to cover the ongoing dispute at the restaurant. Lynn’s chief operating officer Patty Schnatter tells the station that the restaurant would review the policy and poll current employees about how they wanted to proceed. Schattner can’t comment on specific employees, but gives a general statement about the restaurant:
“For 22 years Lynn’s Paradise Cafe has been committed to working with our employees to create a positive working environment through the challenges of an ever-changing economy. We are disappointed to learn that a few former employees and third-party agitators have some disagreements with us at this time. The issues raised arise from personnel matters that we cannot and will not discuss publicly. We are reviewing all of the issues raised, we are listening to the concerns and we will respond at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.”
Jan. 11: Lynn’s serves what will be the restaurant’s last meal.
Jan. 12: WAVE 3 reports that Lynn’s has closed, and Winter releases the following statement:
”Thank you to all of our loyal customers and faithful employees for making it possible to a run a 22-year business. It’s been a great run and we’ve had a ton of fun. The time has come to move on to new creative ventures.”
The restaurant also posts the following message on its Facebook page:
“We are touched to hear from so many of our loyal customers this morning. We’ll post an additional statement this afternoon. Thank you again for your continued support!”