Black Star Co-Op works on no tips


by JESSICA VESS / KVUE News and Photojournalist J.P. HARRINGTON

Bio | Email | Follow: @JessicaV_KVUE

Posted on January 5, 2014 at 11:31 PM

Updated Sunday, Jan 5 at 11:40 PM

AUSTIN -- An Austin restaurant is turning the dining experience upside down, and its employees are reaping the rewards.

“As far as concepts go it's the first of its kind that I've ever worked in,” said Black Star Co-op employee Charlie Wilson.

The Black Star Co-op is doing away with tips. The member owners at Black Star Co-op believe it's better this way. “It's definitely jarring to (customers),” explained Black Star Co-op employee, Mike Foster.

“They're so good. They're so friendly. You kind of want to help them out, and you feel bad that you can't,” said Black Star Co-op diner Antonio Juarez.

The company pays all 27 of its workers a fair-living wage. The starting rate is $13.50 an hour. Typical restaurant servers who rely on tips make $2.15 an hour.

“I think it's an adjustment, but you also have a more sustainable income than you would if you're a bar-tender where you have ups and downs. You might have a good night or you might have three bad nights. We level that out where you don't get the huge upswings when we're really busy, but you also don't have to freak out about making your bill payments when it's slow,” said Black Star Co-op employee Nicole Renaux.

Employees also get paid time off and receive health benefits.

“(It’s the) first time I've had benefits working in a kitchen, and I've worked a lot of years in a kitchen,” said Wilson.

The founders at Black Star Co-op worked for several years to secure loans and build its list of member owners. It opened doors in 2010 as the first brew-pub co-op of its kind.

“You can focus more on the job at hand instead of relying on running up a tab or, you know, 'Am I gonna make money today? Is it a slow day? Is it a busy day?'” said Foster.

There are now more than 3,200 member owners including employees.

“Everyone definitely has the opportunity to have a say to what's going on from the umbrellas of our picnic tables to the expansion at a second location perhaps,” said Wilson.

While some customers may find the policies jarring, it appears to be working. Last year the ROCUnited Diners' Guide recognized Black Star Co-op for Ethical Eating because of its fair labor practices. It also made the Austin Chronicle's 2012 list for "best pub grub" and "reader's favorite." In 2011, it made the list for "best tipping policy."

Anyone 21 and older can become a member of the co-op. It costs $150 the first year with a $40 payment upfront. Afterward, members make one good faith payment a year of any amount. Go here for more information.