Per Se Owes Workers $500,000 in Unpaid Service Charges, Says New York Attorney General

Hailed as one of New York City’s best restaurants, the fine-dining stalwart must pay unpaid charges from 2011 to 2012

Per Se has been told to pay $500,000 in service charges to its workers.

UPDATE, July 7 at 10:20 a.m.: A Per Se spokesperson responded The Daily Meal's request for comment, saying: "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.  The Attorney General’s office’s own findings state that the charge was used in part to pay Per Se’s workers their industry-leading wages – a waiter at Per Se, for example, including overtime and gratuities, makes approximately $116,000 a year. This matter relates to the words that Per Se used to describe its private dining operational charge during a 21-month period three years ago. According to the Attorney General, Per Se should have made it clearer that that this charge was not a gratuity. Per Se revised this language on its own, well before it ever heard from the Attorney General’s office, and has been in compliance for nearly three years."

Critically acclaimed New York City restaurant Per Se must pay their workers $500,000 in tips that were withheld from them illegally, according to a press release from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that was published on July 2.

The Attorney General’s office found that Per Se did not pay the waitstaff the mandatory 20 percent service charge for working private events between January 2011 and September 2012. This is a separate charge added to the already-included 20 percent gratuity for service.

The Thomas Keller fine-dining restaurant apparently used the service charges intended for the workers to pay for restaurant operations. “[The] agreement will compensate workers at Per Se who were shortchanged out of their hard-earned tips,” Schneiderman said 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.” 

The Department of Labor ruled in 2011 that service charges are considered gratuities and must be distributed to employees unless customers specified that they are not tips. Per Se managers said in a statement that they were ignorant of this regulation. “In an unintentional oversight, Per Se, unaware of a new state regulation, did not update the description of the operational charge in its private dining event agreement during a 21-month period in 2011 and 2012,” a spokesperson said.

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We have reached out to Per Se for comment and are waiting to hear back.