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Per Se Must Pay $500K to Waitstaff for Withholding Tips, AG Says

By Emily Frost | July 2, 2015 3:20pm
 The restaurant failed to pay its waitstaff the 20 percent service fee it charged for private dining and banquets.
Per Se Agrees to Pay $500K Settlement
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COLUMBUS CIRCLE — One of the city's top restaurants, Per Se, must pay its workers $500,000 in tips it illegally withheld from them, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Thursday.

The AG's office launched an investigation into the acclaimed eatery's handling of tips for private events and banquets in July 2013 and found they were not distributed to workers as patrons intended.

Between January 2011 and September 2012, Thomas Keller's fine-dining spot did not pay service workers the 20 percent service charge that was mandatory on any bill for a private event at the restaurant, Schneiderman's office discovered.

In its written communication with patrons, the restaurant even described this service charge as a "gratuity," Schneiderman said in a statement released Thursday.

However, the money never went to the employees.

Instead, the service fees were put toward the restaurant's general operations costs, according to the settlement.

Per Se has agreed to pay between 60 to 70 affected workers a total of $500,000.

The restaurant must generate a list of eligible employees within 30 days. Once the attorney general's office has signed off on the list, the restaurant must send them each a check and a letter of explanation, the agreement stipulates.

New employees and current staff must also receive training regarding their rights.

“Today’s agreement ensures that workers at Per Se will not continue to be cheated out of their hard-earned tips — tips that customers intended for them,” said Schneiderman in a statement.

"And it reaffirms the right of satisfied restaurant-goers not to be misled about whether a ‘service charge’ is actually paid to workers as a tip, which the law requires," he said.

A spokeswoman from Per Se fired back that the restaurant has revised the language it uses to describe the service charge and cleared up any confusion on its own, before the inquiry. 

"Our employees were never short-changed and no monies intended for employees were withheld.  Our employees are among the best compensated in the restaurant industry because they are the best in the business...a waiter at Per Se, for example, including overtime and gratuities, makes approximately $116,000 a year."

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