Critically acclaimed Manhattan restaurant Per Se will fork over $500,000 to settle claims it pocketed gratuities that should have gone to employees who worked at private-dining events.
The settlement, announced Thursday by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, centered on a 20 percent surcharge in the restaurant's contracts with customers for private dining and banquet services from January 2011 through September 2012.
Per Se, whose prix-fixe tasting menus cost $310 before drinks, tax and tip, violated state labor law by using funds generated by the "service charge" to cover its operations, while telling some customers who inquired about the fee that it was akin to a gratuity, Schneiderman's office stated.
The agreement reached with the three Michelin-starred Per Se indicated that the state's probe of the restaurant did not show that Per Se was aware that it was violating a requirement, which took effect in January 2011, that it clearly state that charge was not a gratuity.
"Our employees were never short-changed and no monies intended for employees were withheld," Per Se said in a statement. "According to the AG, 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 AG's office, and has been in compliance for nearly three years."
Per Se workers deprived of "hard-earned tips" during the 21-month period will now be compensated, Schneiderman stated in a news release.
Including overtime and gratuities, a waiter at Per Se earns approximately $116,000 a year, the restaurant said, with a spokeswoman unable to break out how much of the figure came from overtime and tips.
"Per Se follows the European model. Customers are not obliged to tip, but some do of course," the spokeswoman said.
Wait staff at Per Se, touted as New York City's best restaurant by the New York Times, are paid $16.60 to $28 an hour, and are eligible for overtime and gratuities, according to Schneiderman's findings.