A former Nusr-et Steakhouse waiter has filed a proposed class and collective action against the international restaurant chain and its owner over claims that he and other tipped workers were cheated out of proper wages. Filed in New York, the suit names as defendants the restaurant’s operating company, Nurset New York LLC, and owner, Nusret Gokce, better known across the Internet as “the Salt Bae.”
Where have I heard of this guy before?
Nusret Gokce made his mark on the Internet a couple of years ago, when an Instagram video (embedded below) of the Turkish-born butcher flamboyantly slicing and seasoning a slab of meat went viral. His signature wrist flick and flair for the dramatic seized the attention of millions and thus the Salt Bae persona and meme were born. Since then, Salt Bae quickly capitalized on his 15 minutes of fame and opened restaurants in Turkey, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Miami and New York.
You might’ve even seen him in the news more recently too. This past September, protestors gathered outside of Miami’s Nusr-et Steakhouse after Salt Bae “Instagrammed” himself carving meat for Venezuela’s controversial president. And earlier this month, a French soccer player made headlines when Salt Bae posted a video of the man digging into an extravagant steak covered in edible gold at Gocke’s Dubai restaurant.
Now, back to the lawsuit…
Though he is seemingly heavy-handed with spices, Salt Bae is alleged in the lawsuit to be quite tight-fisted when it comes to his payroll. The plaintiff, a former waiter at Nusr-et Steakhouse’s Manhattan location, claims he regularly worked over 40 hours each week at the restaurant without proper minimum or overtime wages.
The case also addresses a supposedly illegitimate tip pool that consisted of waiters, bartenders, baristas, hosts, runners, busboys, sommeliers, sushi makers and managers. Tips were distributed to workers according to a point-based system, the complaint alleges, where different monetary values were assigned to work hours depending on job positions.
The amount each person in the Tip Pool receives in tips at the end of the day is based on a point system: depending upon their position, each employee is allocated a specific amount of points for each hour worked...The Tip Pool employees receive the following amount of points per hour worked: bartenders 1.0 point; baristas .6 point; busboys .6 point; sushi makers .6 point; host .2 point; manager 1.1 point; runner .6 point; waiter 1.0 point; and sommelier 1.0 point.”
The case points out that baristas and sushi makers don’t regularly earn tips, engage in customer service or interact with customers. On top of that, three percent of all tips were allegedly pocketed by the house. For a tip pool to be valid under New York and federal law, employers are prohibited from retaining any portion of contributions and all participants must work in positions that customarily receive tips.
The suit further notes that even though an 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to guests’ checks, the restaurant deceptively fails to inform its customers that their tips don’t go straight to their servers. The result, according to the case, is that customers regularly add gratuities above and beyond the standard 18 percent, with the difference retained by the defendants.
According to the complaint, the restaurant has “systematically” fired employees who’ve voiced their concerns about its tipping practices while rewarding workers who don’t speak up with extra tips. The ex-waiter claims he was ultimately fired in retaliation for complaining about his lost wages.
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The case looks to represent non-exempt wait staff and other tipped workers who were employed by the defendants at any time between January 15, 2013 and the date of the case’s resolution. This includes waiters and waitresses, runners, and servers.
The complaint can be read below.