DENVER — Casa Bonita responded Friday to a list of demands from some of its employees that centered around better working conditions and compensation, saying they wanted the iconic Colorado landmark to open “well, not fast.”
The demands of #WeAreTeamCasa, a group of about 50 Casa Bonita employees, include clarity from management about restaurant hours and health benefits, as well as transparency from ownership and a “voice in the workplace.”
The group said in a statement on Wednesday that it was originally promised benefits, but that many did not meet the business hours threshold to qualify for these benefits as “there was no clear path to open seven days a week.” The restaurant has only been open from Thursday to Saturday since it reopened last month.
“We’re hired full time, 40 hours a week, but what we get is 20 hours or less each week on average — some of us even earn as little as 15 hours. It’s ridiculous, and we want to be paid full time,” Joe Lowry, who works in guest services at Casa Bonita, told Denver on Thursday.
In response, management said in a memo sent to employees on Friday that the restaurant was “intentional about the gradual opening in order to improve upon the many complex aspects of the Casa Bonita experience,” adding that while they understand the frustration that accompanied the restaurant’s slow and easy opening, they have been transparent about the “intent and reasons behind the speed.”
“We do not want to make promises to customers or employees that we cannot deliver,” the memo says in part.
#WeAreTeamCasa told Denver 7 that several employees, including former bartender Ross Lee, were let go after contract disagreements last month. Among them was the adoption of a no-tip policy at the restaurant, which meant switching to a flat wage of $30 an hour for servers and bartenders, instead of the $14.27 an hour that Casa Bonita had originally agreed to.
Lee told Denver7 that the flat-rate model means a 40-50% pay cut with no tipping for servers, while other workers who don’t serve or waiter make less than $30 an hour.
Casa Bonita responds to a list of employee demands in a staff memo on Friday
In response, Casa Bonita said the change in the salary structure was because customers “left a lot less tips than we would have expected” since the restaurant’s soft openings.
“With the unexpected lack of customer tips during simple openings, all employees were experiencing lower earnings than expected. This is why we have moved to significantly improved hourly rates,” management wrote in a note Friday, adding that it remained focused on providing its employees with “fair rewards and benefits.”
Something Casa Bonita management said they were now able to deliver, as the restaurant doubled its service from 1,148 customers a week to more than 2,300 in the past week. Staff were told Friday that they expect that number to increase to more than 2,600 by next week.
“While this is still far from the approximately 20,000 customers per week we hope to serve, it is a significant achievement that all of our employees have now been given the opportunity to work enough hours to receive full-time benefits,” the memo says.
Management encouraged employees to share their concerns directly with them, and said they had multiple places to voice their opinions, as individuals and collectively.
The memo states, “We intend to continue experimenting with changes, adjustments, and improvements as dictated by our evolving business and the lessons we learn.” One thing is for sure, Casa Bonita will continue to evolve to continue providing a great place to work and the best guest experience for generations to come.
As of Friday, Casa Bonita was only allowing ticketed guests in for limited dinner hours in what its website described as a “beta test” phase. He would limit tickets to those on his email list.
Lunch service is listed as “coming soon” in the restaurant website.
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