A Japanese snack bar in Montreal brings the front and the back of the house together
“Tip your server,” goes the common refrain. But what about your line cook, busser, and dishwasher? At Fleurs et Cadeaux—a restaurant and bar on the edge of Montreal’s Chinatown that’s inspired by Japan’s cozy sunakku snack bars—gratuities aren’t reserved for whoever took your order. Here, everyone gets a cut, as part of a radical staffing model that eschews the front-of-house/back-of-house divide—and the entrenched hierarchies that plague the restaurant industry.
“It’s a decentralized model,” says co-owner David Schmidt. “Tips are split evenly between everyone working, so the pay scale varies much less between employees than it does in a traditional restaurant model.”
The idea to make restaurant staffing more equitable came to Schmidt after he read Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, a treatise on non-hierarchical workplace structure and employee collaboration. While Laloux was writing with a more corporate environment in mind, Schmidt saw no reason why the concept of staffing decentralization couldn’t be applied to restaurants. He and associates Hideyuki Imaizumi, Sebastien Langlois, and Kris Guilty got to work designing a restaurant to host such an experiment. The resulting space—housed in an instantly recognizable dusty pink 19th-century home—puts food prep stations at the center of the dining room, ensuring that those plating the chicken nanban, chirashi sushi, and katsudon feel like part of the service team.
Not that there’s a traditional service team to speak of. The 10 or so employees often rotate duties, so that those serving one night might be rolling sushi or scrubbing dishes the next. Owners, too, help out where needed; even Schmidt has taken his turn bartending and washing up. Management duties, meanwhile, are divided among a handful of employees, who earn a slightly higher hourly rate. But in general, the base salary for everyone is kept high, which ensures no one’s ability to pay rent is scuppered by a slow night.
“We want people to feel like working in the restaurant industry can be a career,” Schmidt says. “It’s not just about making pocket money—you can pay your bills, buy a condo. Your pay is stable, so you’re not worried about how busy a particular shift at the restaurant is.”
Regardless, Fleurs et Cadeaux rarely has a quiet night. Locals love the restaurant’s fun take on Japanese bar food, and the staff love coming to work. “It’s a really good vibe,” Schmidt says. “They’re all really happy to be there.”
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