Leah & Louise parent adds 23% service charge in hopes of creating ‘sustainable hospitality industry’

By   –  Senior Staff Writer, Charlotte Business Journal

Leah & Louise will add a 23% automatic service charge to all guests’ checks beginning July 15.

Husband-and-wife team Greg and Subrina Collier say that step is tied to efforts to change the business model of their restaurants — current and future. It will replace the standard tipping model by setting a specific amount, though guests can still add an additional tip if they want. It’s a move designed to help attract and retain top talent, at a time when hiring remains difficult.

“We’ve always tried to find ways to make it better. What we hope is it creates a sustainable hospitality industry,” Greg says. “We can be the standard for restaurant groups and also be Black.”

Leah & Louise is located at Camp North End. That Southern-inspired, modern-day juke joint opened in June 2020.

The duo — he’s a two-time James Beard-nominated chef and she’s a James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellow — recently formed BayHaven Restaurant Group, with a goal of launching as many as 10 restaurant concepts over the next decade.

Multiple announcements are expected over the next 18 months, making the timing right to implement change, Greg says.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about how to change the hospitality industry. We want to make sure our staff is treated as well as we treat our guests,” he adds.

That service charge — called the BayHaven Pledge — will support increased hourly wages, benefits such as paid time off, 401(k) plans and health insurance, as well as bonuses.

“I think most of the people who come in the restaurant and know who we are and what we’re trying to do will be willing to pay it,” Greg says.

The typical dinner ticket comes in around $37, with brunch averaging around $26, Greg says.

The Colliers have committed 2% of profits to support those initiatives as well. Together, that could generate an additional $80,000 annually to support change.

The BayHaven Pledge will guarantee a consistent wage — no matter how slow the restaurant is. It will allow kitchen staff and management to receive higher wages as well, Greg says.

Servers will make between $30 and $40 an hour depending on shifts and sales produced. They can still earn tips as well. Currently, the front-of-house team at Leah & Louise is tipped an average of 21%.

Back-of-house positions will start at $17 an hour.

“Hopefully, this service fee initiative is only going to strengthen the team. The future is looking bright,” Greg says.

Menu prices will not increase. Leah & Louise plans some changes to its menu. That includes transitioning from just small plates to a menu with small and large plate items.

Subrina knows the fee could deter some diners, but she says it’s important to have skin in the game to show staff that BayHaven is committed to providing a different working environment. The pay structure will include a higher hourly wage as well as opportunities for bonuses based on sales.

“That’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make as well, is losing some people,” she says. “I feel like that’s part of change. You have have to be willing to lose something.”

The Colliers began planning for this change several months ago; the couple dined at restaurants in other cities that charge a living wage or service of hospitality fee. The change is critical as the hospitality industry is facing a hiring shortage and still recovering from the pandemic.

“We’ve always looked at ourselves as leaders in the food and beverage space, so we’re willing to pave the road ahead. If restaurants don’t figure out a way to improve for their employees, they’ll continue to lose team members, service will suffer and their bottom lines will shrink. Now is the time for change” Greg says.

The couple also founded the BayHaven Food and Wine Festival, which will take place in Charlotte this fall. It aims to raise awareness and create opportunities for Black experts in the hospitality industry.