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Bartmann Adds 3% Charge to Cover Rising Insurance Rates

Sometimes it's a cold world when you're an innovator like Kim Bartmann

Foodservice News file photo

Most discerning diners insist their meat be humanely raised and come from healthy animals that are as happy as can be expected since we all know the ending to a chicken’s and pig’s tale. So should diners really be upset if they have to pay a 3 percent surcharge to help a restaurant pay for its employees’ health care insurance? Wouldn’t that translate into healthier, happier restaurant employees?

Kim Bartmann, whose restaurant empire currently includes Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, Pat’s Tap, Red Stag Supperclub, Tiny Diner and The Bird, is adding a 3 percent service charge on customers’ checks beginning tomorrow (July 28) to help cover the rising costs of offering insurance to employees. Bartmann, who has been offering insurance coverage since 1993, says her rates have been going up 20 to 30 percent a year for the past several years. “I don’t want to back down from offering high-quality health care (to employees),” she said in a phone interview. She currently offers four different tiers of health insurance coverage to her employees.

Rather than randomly raise the prices on food items, Bartmann decided to be transparent and add the service fee. To put that in context, Bartmann says, it adds up to 30-cents on a $10 check.  If you’re dining at a restaurant with entertainment, you’re paying an 11 percent fee whether you're there for the entertainment or not,” she adds.

Most of the feedback has been positive, but she says she was surprised by a comment left on the Pat’s Tap site that said she was “pitting servers against customers,” and another Fortune 500 administrative assistant’s angry email complaining that she has to pay her health insurance premiums so Bartmann should make her employees pay theirs.

Bartmann knew as the first to go this route, she’d take some flak. “I accidentally am the first person to do something (like this),” she says, in reference to her efforts to reduce her global footprint, as well as for her employment practices. “All of our sustainability efforts — solar panels, LEED certifications, composting, supporting local organic farms and permaculture, low-waste events — are ultimately about human health, just like health coverage,” Bartmann says in a release. ”I’m committed to offering quality health insurance to our employees, whatever it takes.”  

But she also thinks the subject is part of a long overdue conversation about restaurants as grueling workplaces that aren’t always the most healthy environment.

The young people attracted to the work often think they’re invincible, she says.  But it only takes a bicycle accident or some type of illness to reinforce the idea that health insurance is a pretty nice perk.  “And we make it up in retention,” she adds. 

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