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Carlton County restaurant owner makes waves with new pay policy

Lazy Moose restaurant owners David and Janis Lund (from left), cook Lisa Zeleznikar and manager Jordan Stipp are happy with the Moose Lake restaurant’s new 12 percent service charge in lieu of tips, which they say allows them to reward all non-management employees — waitstaff and kitchen staff — more fairly. (Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com)

When a longtime Carlton County restaurant owner decided to try to change the way his employees are — or are not — paid for their services, he never knew he’d be igniting a Facebook firestorm.

David Lund, who owns the Lazy Moose in Moose Lake and the Lazy Bear in Barnum, said he was just trying to find a way to make the wages for all his staff more equitable. So on Aug. 4, in lieu of tipping, he implemented a new 12 percent service charge which will be divided among all the staff except management, according to seniority and “value to the business” as part of their pay.

Lund is quick to note that his new wage system has been a work in progress, with the table tent cards changing every day or two the first week as he and manager Jordan Stipp tweaked their new idea after feedback from customers in the restaurant and, even more, on Facebook.

The original idea, of implementing the service charge and then donating any extra tips received to a charity (the Moose Lake Chamber of Commerce), didn’t make it past the first day. The response on Facebook was immediate, and mostly irate.

“People were upset that their tips were going to a charity, so we changed the policy Tuesday (Aug. 5) and said we’d put any tips in a jar and divide it among the servers,” Lund said.

“I didn’t realize people would want to tip on top of the service charge, but some people do,” Lund said, explaining that the restaurant based its initial new policy on one conceived at a now-closed San Diego restaurant called The Linkery.

The second version of the tips policy lasted two days. Under the next policy revision, Lund said, servers can keep any tips they receive. They also should get higher wages because of the service charge, he added.

Moose Lake resident Karen Slater is among the customers who still want to reward their server with a tip, regardless of whether there is a service charge. She did exactly that when she ate at the restaurant earlier this month, paying both the service charge and a cash tip.

Slater said she isn’t a fan of the service charge.

“Really, he raised his prices a couple months ago,” she said. “If he wants to compensate his cooks, why did it take the minimum wage hike to make it happen?”

While Lund implemented the new service charge at both his restaurants Aug. 4, within days of Minnesota’s new minimum wage standards going into effect, he insisted the new state regulations were not the reason he added a service charge. Rather, he said, the new law gave them “the opportunity” to try something different, a way of paying restaurant staff more money both in the dining room and in the kitchen.

“The typical ‘tip’ is protected by law for only the server,” Lund wrote in a short press release. “Whereas the service charge can legally be distributed to all who have had a hand in your dining experience … cooks, bakers, servers, dishwashers, etc.”

On Aug. 8, Lund held a meeting for any staff or community members to discuss the new policies — an attempt to correct misinformation that has dominated Facebook posts, he said. The meeting was attended by about 10 people, many of them current or former staff members.

Emma Casey, who worked at the Lazy Moose for a little more than two years but now works at the Dry Dock, peppered Lund with questions during the meeting.

Casey said waitstaff at her current workplace are getting a higher base salary because of the state law change, but that restaurant didn’t implement any other changes. The tipping policy is still the same.

“I just wanted to know what was going on,” Casey said afterward. “I worked here for two years. You hear things. I just wanted to know the truth.”

Several of Lund’s employees spoke up and said they like the new policy.

“I’ve worked here for 18 years, primarily in the kitchen,” Lisa Zeleznikar said. “I feel like the plan is a good one, now that they’ve made a few adjustments.”

“It makes sense,” added Mary Suomala, who’s worked at the Lazy Moose for a year. “The waitresses and servers do as much work as the people in back.”

Lund said he rests easier because he feels like things are fair.

“For 25 years, I’ve struggled to keep people in the kitchen,” Lund said. “As soon as they find out how much the front-of-house gets paid, they leave.”

Zeleznikar explained that most of the servers did tip the kitchen staff, but the system was fairly informal and amounts varied quite a bit from server to server.

“I don’t think it’s right to make $20 or $30 an hour and not share it with the back of house,” said Lund’s wife, Janis, who bakes pies every Friday at the restaurant and is part of the management decisions.

While he admitted he has lost some staff since the new policy was implemented, Lund said new hires are excited by the idea of basically working for a base salary plus commission.

Stipp, the manager, said the new policy could actually benefit servers, because they will earn more money during slow times because of the higher base pay.

David Lund said he’s already seen a change in attitude.

“It’s always been like this between the front and back of house,” he said, punching his fists against each other. “Now, for the first time, it’s like this,” he added, lacing his fingers together. “It’s a team.”

As of the Aug. 8 meeting, Lund said they’d only gotten one call from a customer, with most folks going to Facebook to air their opinions without speaking directly to anyone at the restaurant.

Slater said she left a comment card. And a tip.

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