Great restaurant jobs
These seven dining spots dish out the best perks.
Mon Aug 2 2010
163 Duane St at Hudson (212-964-2525, davidbouley.com)
Dining room captain Jean-Baptiste Caillet says the best benefits from working at Bouley are the direct result of Chef David Bouley's hard-driving perfectionism. "Seeing the quality of the farm-fresh ingredients that are used, like local cheese and vegetables, and working in such a beautiful dining room with silver and beautiful china and fresh flowers is really amazing," he says. Chef Bouley lives above the restaurant, spends time in the kitchen every day and attends almost all nightly preservice meetings to discuss the evening's menu. The chef's passion is also part of the challenge: "I've been here for two and a half years and I get along very well with him, but a lot of new employees have to get put through the ringer," Caillet says. "He wants to know who you are and what you stand for." The free food is well worth it, though. "When any of the staff comes in, the employee doesn't pay, and neither do their guests," says Caillet. "All of the cooks come in for dinner regularly, because it's important for them to see that side of what they do." Employees get health insurance for a monthly premium, but no paid vacation time. That doesn't seem to increase turnover, though: "A lot of people have been here for eight or ten years," adds Caillet.
43 E 19th St at Park Ave South (212-780-0880, craftrestaurant.com)
When Cesar Caicedo talks about his job as the captain of the main dining room at Craft, it sounds like he's describing a utopian commune. "You feel protected and secure here," he says. "You can tell that people are happy." Caicedo, who joined the staff six years ago as a busboy, stresses the opportunities for upward mobility. "A lot of the line cooks become chefs, and so on," he says. Staff members get health insurance after just 90 days of employment, as well as a voucher for a full free meal every month—including a glass of wine. "You can imagine how many amazing meals I've had over six years!" he raves. "When I started here, I didn't even know if I liked wine." And despite Tom Colicchio's celebrity status, the chef still works in the kitchen three or four times per week. "I knew him before Top Chef, and he's still the same person," Caicedo says. He knows all of our names." The happy captain is about to take a paid vacation to visit his family in Colombia for 15 days; he was also given a full month to visit them last Christmas, which is the restaurant's busiest season. "I am being so honest," he adds. "I love working here."
29 Bedford St at Downing St (212-633-0202, ditch-plains.com)
What makes Ditch Plains the coolest restaurant in the Anvil Group? "It's the fun place where everyone from Landmarc comes to hang out when they're off work," says Michelle Newman, who worked as front-of-the-house manager at Landmarc in the Time Warner Center for a year and a half, before being promoted to general manager at Ditch Plains four months ago. "There's a lot of upward mobility within the company in general. I personally know several people in management who started as servers." Employees receive health care and paid vacation, and the restaurant's daily preshift meetings provide lots of free food. "We have these really elaborate tastings every day, whether it's specials, or normal items from our menu like an entre or a salad, and then we have everyone talk about it and describe it to each other so that we can practice educating the guests," says Newman. "I've never worked in any other restaurant where the staff is encouraged to taste and talk about the food as much as we do."
151 E 58th St at Lexington Ave (212-644-0202, lecirque.com)
While it sounds too easy to call Le Cirque's employment atmosphere "family-oriented," given the fact that it's run by the Maccionis, there definitely is a homey feel to the way they treat their staff. "If something's wrong, people want to talk to you. There's no huge corporate structure. You don't have to call HR if you're sick," says Sirio Maccioni's assistant, Carolyn Thalin, who describes her job as being "like working with your grandpa." The entire staff, from office workers to busboys, gathers twice a day for "family meal"—a communal, preservice meal."It's not necessarily the food that they have on the menu—you know, there's no lobster—but it's always very good," says Nicola Libonati, one of the dining room's captains. "It's not really formal. We just sit around and talk and eat together." Libonati did time at several other restaurants before settling at Le Cirque ten years ago, and says he doesn't plan to leave. "They're a very nice family, and they make you feel like a part of it," he notes, touting the health benefits (including vision and dental insurance) available after three months of work, and paid vacations (one week, available after a year; he gets the maximum of three weeks).
Ruth's Chris Steak House
148 W 51st St at Seventh Ave (212-245-9600, ruthschris.com)
The intercontinental enormity of the Ruth's Chris Steak House empire means that the publicly held company can afford to give its employees 401k, life-insurance, medical, dental and vision benefits. "It's the best place to work," says Tom McCarthy, an assistant general manager for the Manhattan location and former regional chef for the northeast and Canada. I've been with the company for 20 years, and I get four weeks of paid vacation." Ruth's may be an international chain, but the advantages of toiling here are clear: Employees get one week of paid vacation after six months of work, two weeks after five years and four weeks (the maximum) after ten years. And to make their holidays even better, all employees get discounted flights with Continental Airlines (they also get deals with Verizon). To top it off, there's a juicy 50 percent discount at all of the restaurant's 100-plus locations, which McCarthy uses regularly.
Various locations (shakeshack.com)
If you're looking to get your foot in the door of the prestigious Union Square Hospitality Group (owners of Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern, to name a few), this is a great place to start. "When you do a good job, you can move on to our other restaurants," says Jon Vandegrift, director of operations at Shake Shack. While other USHG establishments require their staff to have an in-depth culinary background, many of Shake Shack's employees are relatively new to the restaurant industry. "Lots of people can make great shakes and burgers, but we care much more about hiring for certain personality traits than technical skill," says Vandegrift, who rose through the USHG ranks himself after started his career at Tabla ten years ago. Indeed, about 15 percent of today's Shake Shack management team started off as hourly employees and then were promoted. Perks include eligibility for the extensive USHG health-care plan and fun holidays. "Last year we took the entire team to a bowling alley and [gave away] prizes, and the year before we had an in-house party with a dance contest," Vandegrift enthuses. The restaurant also keeps a "Caught Doing Right" board in the back, where employees post cheerleadery notes for one another. "We really stress teamwork," adds Amanda Kale, a manager at the Upper West Side branch. "We take care of each other first, and then the customers after that."
375 Greenwich St at North Moore St (212-941-3900, myriadrestaurantgroup.com)
Does Drew Nieporent consider himself a good boss? "I think so," he says. "But a fun place to work isn't necessarily what we're looking for. What we do try to foster is job security. Once you have that, then you can think about having fun." Nieporent has taken many precautions to make sure that his oldest operating restaurant, Tribeca Grill, remains "pro-worker." "We try to limit the amount of heavy lifting, literally," he says. "We don't use trays or plate covers, so it's not too physically demanding or laborious for our staff to serve." Efficiency is the name of the game: Computers are plentiful and strategically placed throughout the dining areas so that communication remains smooth at all times. Staff members receive health insurance from Nieporent's Myriad Restaurant Group and an average of one and a half weeks of vacation, depending on the duration of their employment. "Our benefits and discounts aren't one-size-fits-all," he notes. "There's not a flat-rate discount percentage for our employees at our restaurants, but we encourage employees to visit." Given the Tribeca Grill's low turnover rate, he adds, "the proof is in the pudding. We've had some people there for all 20 years it's been open."