Archive for Sunday, November 13, 2011

Recession takes a bite out of the free lunch

Taylor Gustafson is a server at Dempsey's, 623 Vermont. She gets a half-priced lunch when she works.

Taylor Gustafson is a server at Dempsey's, 623 Vermont. She gets a half-priced lunch when she works.

November 13, 2011


Ask Lawrence restaurant owners about the problems on their plate, and they’ll probably mention rising food prices.

Subarna Bhattachan, co-owner of Zen Zero, 811 Mass., is one such owner. He buys his products domestically and from Thailand, where food prices have also increased. He said the dollar’s weakened value makes the problem a “double whammy for us.”

Greg Mann, co-owner of Dempsey’s, 623 Vt., said food prices have risen since the restaurant opened in 2008.

“If that continues to happen, we’ll probably see a problem,” Mann said.

Bhattachan said he finds creative ways to reduce his costs. Last year, he changed his employee meal policy: Instead of receiving a free meal during their shift, workers now get a 50 percent discount.

Since the recession began in 2008, other local restaurants have cut back on kitchen freebies.

Ingredient, 947 Mass., used to give employees a free meal when they worked. But now, they pay half the menu price, according to Ian White, general manager.

At Encore, 1007 Mass., employees receive a 25 percent discount. According to employee Daniel Padilla, the discount used to be half-off before the restaurant remodeled in 2009.

At Ten at the Eldridge, 701 Mass., cooks used make a family-style meal for the staff before customers arrived but no longer do so.

“Before the recession, we could probably eat anything we wanted,” said Patti McCormick, director of media for the Olivia Collection, parent company of the Eldridge Hotel. These days, managers at the restaurant receive a free meal while hourly employees get a discount.

According to Richard Lee, manager of Paisano’s, 2112 W. 25th St., discounted meals are standard practice for Lawrence restaurants. Paisano’s dishwashers and cooks receive a free meal, while front-of-house employees get half-priced food.

“I think that’s really the trend,” said Evan Davis, manager of Jefferson’s, 743 Mass., where employees have received a discount since the restaurant reopened last spring. “No one likes to give anything away now.”

Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Company, 636 Mass., said employees receive a discount on most of the restaurant’s food. He said the policy is valuable to everyone — employees pay low prices while learning the menu and giving the kitchen feedback.

“My experience in 35 years in the restaurant business: Sell something too cheaply, and it loses its value,” Magerl said. “If it’s free, it’s not valuable.”

Still, the free meal isn’t entirely dead in Lawrence.

McDonald’s in Lawrence gives employees $7 of food during their shift. At Jimmy Johns, employees who work an eight-hour shift get a free meal, while those working less get 60 percent off. The Burger Stand, 803 Mass., and Esquina, 801 Mass., have a similar policy.

Taylor Gustafson, a server at Dempsey’s, said she appreciated her half-priced lunch, a burger salad accompanied with a basket of fries. Gustafson works about five shifts a week and said she plans meals around her work schedule.

“Because of Dempsey’s, I don’t go to the grocery store,” Gustafson said.


Shane Garrett 2 years, 5 months ago

Wow, did I just notice about 12 restaurants that got free advertising. "Sell something too cheaply, and it loses its value,”


its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

Pursuant to the 9:29 post that was logged, we now have a speech AND labor law expert. Good to know!


somedude20 2 years, 5 months ago

I got a free lunch while doing jury duty the other week (and it was Freestate). Give me another chicken sandwich and I will hand you another conviction! I am going to make a car out of chicken and eat it so it gets better gas mileage and I get filled


Agnostick 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm getting quite a few chuckles out of reading all this knicker-twisting this morning. Amazing how some folks can read an article, seemingly miss five or six key points, while inscribing ten or more points of their own agenda (or their spoon-fed political agenda) into the article.

Nobody is telling anybody else how to run their business--put a sock in your false patriotism and bravado, already.

There are legal ways for agricultural producers to hire the temporary immigrant laborers they need--all it takes it planning and paperwork. The main problem with this is that the legal immigration process is too expensive and complicated. Make legal immigration cheaper and easier, and illegal immigration will be greatly reduced. Another key part of this process: cracking down hard on the businesses that knowingly skirt the law and hire illegal immigrants off the books.


yourworstnightmare 2 years, 5 months ago

Adding to rising food prices are the crack downs on illegal immigrant labor. I have read accounts of fields of vegetables going unpicked in Alabama.

Actions have consequences, just like elections.


Flap Doodle 2 years, 5 months ago

Occupy Free State! (from a source)


bootlegger 2 years, 5 months ago

There is no leadership in this country; while wall street; politicians; and bankers steal from the american worker; and all of these manufacturing jobs leave the country.

There was a company up in Michigan; that made refrigerators; they got rid of 8,000 workers; up there; and moved to Mexico; and hired workers at a $1.87 an hour.


Clickker 2 years, 5 months ago

Ethanol subsidies and mandates to use. It makes no sense and raises the price of corn, which raises the price of .........all food


lucky_guy 2 years, 5 months ago

Don't blame us, it's the dang Indians and Chinese. If they would just have the courtesy to go back to starving to death then all this would be solved.


jumpin_catfish 2 years, 5 months ago

Hope and change at work here, who will be the first to blame Bush because we all know the Obama inherited this economy and it's not his fault.


its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

Face it, the free lunch is about over. Once we can un-anoint our Apologizer in Chief and get some leadership back, maybe those (currently like the Fleabaggers) will realize there is no more free rides. Put down the drum sticks and the bong, get a haircut, take a shower, put on some clean clothes, go to the library and bang out a resume and go get a job---maybe two jobs if you need to.


mustrun80 2 years, 5 months ago

We should be taxing gas and energy more and more and more - to you know, save the planet.

If these people who own restaurants can't handle higher costs for everything then tough. They need to understand Obama and Micheal Moore's plan to save humanity is much more important than their livelihoods.


bootlegger 2 years, 5 months ago

Going to get worse; soon patrons wont be eating out; due to the high cost of food; shelter; transportation; and just overall living.


newmommiebrazil 2 years, 5 months ago

i can wake my self up when i dream. i walked up to this man in front of his house in a lucid dream last night. i asked him what my name was. he spoke in gibberish. i yelled at him. i demanded he tell me my damn name. he came at me with a axe. and i woke up.


Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 5 months ago

It's disgusting that Chuck Magerl, whose Free State Brewing Company makes plenty of money, charges his employees for food. People who work at restaurants usually don't make much money. Chuck Magerl, from my experience, is merely keeping it for firm profits. If that is not true, then he should so indicate it publicly in these comments.

"If it's free, it's not valuable." That's one of the most ridiculous statements he has made, and it's not true. For some people in this recession, the meal besides work is the meal they can most depend on during the day.


Benjamin Roberts 2 years, 5 months ago

"McDonald’s in Lawrence gives employees $7 of food during their shift. At Jimmy Johns, employees who work an eight-hour shift get a free meal..."

And, most likely, experience the least amount of shrinkage from employee's eating "free" food.


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