Casa Bonita responds to the employee’s list of demands

DENVER — Casa Bonita responded Friday to a list of demands from some of its employees centered around better working conditions and compensation, saying they want the iconic Colorado landmark to open “well, not quickly.”

The demands of #WeAreTeamCasa, a group of about 50 Casa Bonita employees, include clarity from management about the restaurant’s hours and health benefits, as well as transparency from ownership and “a voice in the workplace.”

The collective said in a statement Wednesday that they were initially promised benefits, but many have not met the threshold of working hours to qualify for those benefits, as there has been “no clear path to being open seven days a week.”[ads1]; The restaurant has only been operating Thursday to Saturday since reopening last month.

“We were hired full time, 40 hours a week, but what we get is 20 hours or less each week on average – even some of us make less than 15 hours. It’s ridiculous and we want to be paid full time,” Jo Lowry, who works in guest services at Casa Bonita, told Denver7 on Thursday.

In response, management said in a memo sent to employees Friday that the restaurant has been “intentional to open gradually to refine the many complex aspects of the Casa Bonita experience,” adding that while they understand the frustration that has accompanied the restaurant’s slow, soft opening, they have been transparent about “the intent and reasons behind the pace.”

“We do not want to make promises to customers or employees that we cannot fulfill,” the memo said.

#WeAreTeamCasa told Denver7 that several employees, including former bartender Russ Lee, were let go after contract disputes last month. Among them was the introduction of a no-tipping policy at the restaurant, which involved a move to a flat salary of $30 an hour for servers and bartenders, rather than the $14.27 an hour that Casa Bonita originally agreed to.

Lee told Denver7 that the flat-rate model meant a 40 to 50% pay cut with no tips for servers, while other non-waiting or serving workers made well under $30 an hour.

Casa Bonita responds to employees’ list of demands in a staff memo on Friday

Casa Bonita, in response, said the change in pay structure was due to customers “leaving tips that were much lower than we expected” since the restaurant’s soft openings.

“With the unexpected shortfalls in customer tipping during the soft openings, all employees experienced lower income than expected. That is why we transitioned to significantly improved hourly rates,” management wrote in Friday’s memo, adding that they remained focused on providing their employees “a fair compensation and benefits package.”

Something Casa Bonita management said they were now able to deliver on, as the eatery has doubled service from 1,148 customers a week to over 2,300 last week. Staff were told on Friday that they expected the number to grow to over 2,600 by next week.

“While this is still a long way from the approximately 20,000 customers a week we hope to serve, it is a major achievement as all of our employees have now been given the opportunity to work sufficient hours to have full-time benefits,” the memo said.

Management encouraged employees to share concerns directly with them, saying they had more places to express opinions, both as individuals and as a collective.

“We intend to continue to experiment with changes, modifications and improvements as dictated by our evolving business and the lessons we learn,” the note said. “One thing that is certain is that Casa Bonita will continue to evolve to continue to offer a great place to work and the best guest experience for generations to come.

As of Friday, Casa Bonita was only allowing ticketed guests inside during limited dinner hours in what the website called a “beta testing” phase. It limited the tickets to those on the mailing list.

Lunch service was listed as “coming soon” on the restaurant’s website.

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