If you're a line cook or restaurant server or sommelier, what do you do when you have a child? Many, who can't afford weeks without pay, come back to work before they want to, cobbling together care for a young baby. Some struggle to support their family on a single income. Others drop out and change careers.
Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group is trying to ease those pressures on its employees. In late September, the company—which includes acclaimed New York restaurants the Modern, Gramercy Tavern and Maialino, among others—announced it is rolling out a rarity for the dining industry: paid parental leave for full-time staff, whether they work in management, in the kitchen or on the restaurant floor.
“We want people to know that this is a long-term career,” said Stephanie Jackson, USHG’s director of learning and development, who has a 2-year-old son and is now expecting twins.
Starting Jan. 1, 2017, all full-time employees at USHG who have been on staff for at least one year will receive 100 percent of their base wage for the first four weeks of parental leave and 60 percent for the second four weeks, assuming a 40-hour work week. The policy applies to mothers, fathers and committed domestic partners involved in the birth or adoption of a child. (Shake Shack is now a separate company and not included in this plan.)
“We hope that this allows our talented employees to stay on and return back,” said Jackson. “We’d love to see this trend catch on to other restaurant groups.”
USHG is known for taking progressive stands on restaurant-industry issues. Last fall, it introduced "Hospitality Included," a no-tipping policy in which higher menu prices and revenue sharing aim to provide fairer wages for workers. It’s now in full effect at the Modern, Maialino, North End Grill and Marta, all of which earned a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award in 2016. (Gramercy Tavern and Untitled also hold awards.) “We are really striving to professionalize our industry,” Jackson commented.
The company first tried out the paid-leave policy in its corporate office to evaluate the benefits and cost. Jackson acknowledges that it took "a bit of a leap of faith" that a larger program will work financially, but concluded, “Ultimately, we do have a responsibility as leaders in our industry to show other companies and other industries that it can be done.”