Celebrity Chef Pays $5.25 Million in Confiscated Tips to Workers

  • Sumo
A bowl of delicious spaghetti, by Flickr user "Mortefot", licensed via Creative Commons
A pile of delicious spaghetti (representative of but not actually Batali’s, though)

Celebrity chef Mario Batali has settled with his disgruntled workers over allegations he skimmed 4-5% of servers’ tips at the end of every night at his high-profile restaurants.  The employees claimed that they were not paid overtime when they worked for over 10 hours and that Batali took the tip money to pay the salaries of sommeliers at his other New York restaurants.  The settlement comes in the wake of an overhaul of New York wage laws, which one lawyer connected with the case said made the circumstances “ambiguous”.  Overall, tip-skimming is illegal, and restaurant owners need only follow the guidelines set by the New York legislature to avoid similar lawsuits.

I went to one of these restaurants a few years ago as part of a company morale type of thing at my old job.  The food was pretty good, but not exactly worth the money paid for it.  I guess it’s more about the name at the front of the restaurant than the meal itself.  But anyway, between 20 or so people, the bill turned out to be more than $1,000 with wine and whatnot, if I recall correctly, and probably more knowing my old boss.  A 20% tip on that would be $200, and 5% of that would be $10 going to Batali’s sommeliers.  It seems like a pittance to file a lawsuit over when you look at it localized like this, but compounded over however many hundreds of meals are served per day over five years and between at least eight restaurants, this number becomes astounding.  If the tip-skimming was truly as widespread as the plaintiffs alleged, Batali should be thankful that he only had to pay $5.25 million.

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