To Good Health

Restaurant king Stephen Starr doesn't provide benefits to line cooks, dishwasher, waiters, busboys or bartenders. But should he?

By Peter Woodall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 17, 2004

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"It's not easy," she says. "The margins are so small to begin with. Administration is the most difficult part. You have to chase waiters around for payment, which is why a lot of people don't want to bother, because it's so cumbersome."

Yin says she offers benefits not only to reduce turnover but also because people need them. "We've had one person who had cancer," she says. "One person had an aneurysm. If they didn't have health insurance, they wouldn't be able to receive care."

Not paying benefits has always been part of the fabric of the industry, says White Dog owner Judy Wicks. "There's not a commitment on either side. Why put money into kids who are going to leave, take a month off in Europe? It's mutually reinforcing.

"I like for them to feel a commitment," Wicks says, "so I make a commitment to them, to make them feel that it's a real job."

Former Tangerine server Sarah Cain believes Starr's restaurants could prosper by displaying more commitment to their workers. "I didn't feel like there was a place for long-term servers," says Cain, who quit Tangerine last month to start a business growing vegetables for restaurants. "I did consider myself a professional waiter. I'm not an actor. But without benefits, you feel there's nowhere for you to go. What are you going to do when you retire?"

Cain, who says she enjoyed working for Starr, thinks such an industry trendsetter should consider taking the lead in providing benefits. "Philly is becoming known as a hospitality city. He could be exceptional."

Peter Woodall, a Philadelphia native, was formerly a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. Responses to this story should be emailed to

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