Tip for you: Girard Brasserie tries a new approach

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Chef Brian Oliveira (left) and Cristian Mora at Girard Brasserie, 300 E. Girard Ave. (Michael Klein / Philly.com)

The term "no-tip restaurant" - which is what people are attaching to Girard Brasserie in Fishtown - is a bit of a misnomer, say owners Brian Oliveira and Cristian Mora.

"It isn’t that we are banning tipping," says Mora, a welll-traveled Miami native who met Oliveira, a chef, last year while both worked at Parc on Rittenhouse Square.

"We’re not putting it on the guest to pay our staff’s salary. We are paying their salary. If [customers] go above and beyond and want to leave a true gratuity, which is the meaning of the word, by all means." Such tips will be pooled.

The BYOB - opening Friday, Nov. 21 at Girard Avenue and Marlborough Street - will pay workers an average of $13 an hour, plus full health care, paid vacation (four days for every six months' service) profit-sharing (which they will calculate after opening expenses are totaled), and sick pay.

Sick pay for nonunion restaurant workers?

It's unlimited, too, the men said. On the honor system. "We’ve created a nice, trusting relationship with them," said Oliveira.

When they discussed opening a restaurant, the working conditions came up right away. The idea of not asking customers to tip "was something we wanted to do – to change the environment,” Moro said.

“There are lots of unhappy people in the restaurants, and we were some of them." On a trip to San Francisco, Moro noticed that some restaurants attached a charge to cover workers' health care.

"We started to look into it,"  Oliveira, who grew up in Point Pleasant, N.J. "It would be good for morale. How can we not do this? We worked the numbers for a while. It was hard to make the P&L make sense." Then they came to the conclusion that they would not be wealthy restaurateurs. The fact that Girard is not in Center City, where rent would be much higher, plays in the owners' favor.

It should be noted that $13 an hour plus benefits will not make wealthy employees, either. Waiters and bartenders at neighboring bars tend to make much more than that in tips. Kitchen workers, who are on straight salary, are typically paid poorly and work hellish hours.

"We think we'll attract workers who want more stability and quality of life," Oliveira said. "it’s not so much about going into 'beast mode' and killing it 90 hours a week. Let’s find people who can work efficiently, have some time off, and come back refreshed with a clear head."

"They’re investing a lot in us so we want to do the same for them,” Mora said.

Girard will serve lunch/brunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Joshua Otto of Otto Architects set up a dramatic room splashed with black, white and yellow, accented with wood-topped tables and white retro chairs. At its 7:30 a.m. opening, coffee and grab-and-go items will be available at the coffee bar that takes up a portion of the kitchen counter.

Oliveira and Mora want to elevate the BYO brunch experience. They had a skinny cart built to roll through the dining room bearing mixers, shakers and the like. They've helpfully laid out drink options in their menu (JPG here). Examples: If you bring champagne, they'll make a mimosa, elderflower cordials or a mirabelle. Tequila? You can get a Bloody Maria or a Sunshine.

The brasserie menu (JPG here) leans toward fixed-price options, such as the $23 brunch, $31 lunch and dinner, and the $42 roti du jour ($31 on Wednesday, when it's vegetarian). Tuesday's roti is leg of lamb, Thursday's is a crown roast of pork, Friday's is a whole roasted fish, and Saturday's is roast beef. Starting next year, they will offer a one-seating Sunday supper.

The menu prices are about 18 percent higher to cover the wages, they said.

By the way, one of the coolest features is in the restroom. The men had photog Julia Blankopf go to the roof and take a panoramic photo of the immediate area. That's Girard Avenue wrapping around the walls.

See a portion of it here.