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.


Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 4 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

"If it's free, it's not valuable."

It does sound a bit Ayn Randian, but in defense of Free State, the staff, in general, is fairly well compensated, so I doubt that most of them find it difficult to afford the discounted meals. They used to get discounted beer, as well, but I don't know if they still do.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

To Kansasplains 1: You make some claims about the owner of the Free State and then challenge him to refute those claims if wrong. What makes you think he even reads this forum? Your claims may go unchallenged by him, giving the impression that they are accurate. But unless we know for a fact that he reads this, and has an opportunity to respond, we'll never know for sure. Therefore, it would be better for you to simply state that what you said was your opinion, the validity of which we the readers can decide for ourselves.

tbaker 6 years, 4 months ago

Who are you to judge what benefits a business owner offers their employees? They don't have to work there do they? If the free chow was so important to them, they could always apply at McDonalds. At what point does this become a personal responsibility?

chong 6 years, 4 months ago

Free State offers their employees health insurance coverage.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

Looks like you have some competition for nonsensical posts, FHNC.

jumpin_catfish 6 years, 4 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.

lucky_guy 6 years, 4 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.

Clickker 6 years, 4 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

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 4 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.

somedude20 6 years, 4 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

Shane Garrett 6 years, 4 months ago

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

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