Serving those who serve you

Absent of any collective voice, service industry professionals often find themselves without benefits such as health care.

When we asked a handful of restaurant owners about options for their workers, they offered many justifications. One entrepreneur blamed the transient nature of the restaurant working class. Another lay fault at the feet of simple economics. Another blamed Obama.

Rather than excuses, Katie Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop prefers to put forth effort. In 2017, she and her husband, Justin, extended their Durham shop into a full restaurant. They implemented their Happy Workplace program, offering traditional benefits to a service class unaccustomed to such coverage.

Rather than increase their prices, a 4 percent surcharge is added to each customer’s check to ensure Rose’s entire staff receives a 401K plan, paid vacation, and health care.

While the majority of Rose’s customers appreciate the initiative, inevitably there have been a few instances of blowback. Most of these cases have been restricted to the occasional online gripe, but Meddis recalls one customer who demanded the surcharge be removed from her bill.

“She said she didn’t have a happy workplace at her job,” Meddis says, “so why should she have to pay so others can have one?”

Meddis, always looking to keep others happy, removed that customer’s surcharge.

Boosted up from burnout

The Chapel Hill Restaurant Group does what it can to fight one of the most common side effects for longtime service industry work: burnout.

The organization has implemented an innovative system of mining the ranks of its restaurants to find managing partners who will helm the latest ventures of the group’s restaurant empire.

This program started in 1986, when Mickey Ewell, Spanky’s owner, watched his top three employees grow restless. Rather than lose Greg Overbeck, Pete Dorrance, and Kenny Carlson to their own ambitions, he made them a deal: put up some money, invest sweat equity, and help get their new restaurant up and running. As a result, Squids became the go-to seafood spot in the Triangle, and a business model was born.

Since then, Overbeck, Dorrance, and Carlson have repeated the process and extended the opportunities to other trusted earners from within their ranks. As 411 West, Mez, and Page Road Grill have joined the restaurant group, new partners have ascended from their management roles within the organization. As a result, the new management vacancies are filled from within, and the cycle continues.

Hustling for tips

Service industry professionals Andrea Ventura and Camille Wigely grew tired of long, unusual hours that prevented them from participating in events that benefit their community. So they began searching for ways their lifestylesand work hourswould allow them to contribute. They discovered a likeminded pair, Ritchie Reno and Laura White, who also longed to leave an impact beyond the walls of their respective restaurants.

From this, TIPS was born.

TIPS (This Is Proper Service) shatters traditional fundraising paradigms. Beyond strictly seeking donations, the group connects restaurant employees to philanthropic organizations that better educate, enhance, and inform their communities, during hours that enable access to other service professionals across Raleigh bars and restaurants.

Fundraising events are styled to fit each particular cause. For one philanthropic organization, restaurant workers may donate their tips. For others, it could be an entirely different approach. Recently, Ventura and company organized an effort to clothe the homeless population with coats and scarves left behind in restaurant lost-and-founds.

Since its inception five months ago, TIPS has raised nearly $4,000 benefiting organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the LGBT Center of Raleigh. In September, the group worked with the Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, and this week it teamed up with El Pueblo to educate the community on developments with DACA.

To find more about TIPS, search for TIPS Raleigh on Facebook, or email Andrea at