Just one month after opening, buzzy SF nightclub-restaurant STK Steakhouse is already dogged by a class-action lawsuit over wage and tip theft, plus employees claiming they were forced to work while testing positive for COVID-19.
When we brought you the news in January that expanding, upscale steakhouse-slash-dance club STK Steakhouse was coming to the One Market Plaza (and it did open on September 15), we noted their eyeroll-inducing marketing language that they claimed to be "the global leader in vibe dining." You also see the expression “vibe dining” on their website’s list of their 11 U.S. locations, which include New York, Las Vegas, and Miami’s South Beach.
"The lawsuit paints a drastically different picture from STK Steakhouse’s splashy public image and promise of lucrative pay. The suit alleges employees are refused breaks, not paid for OT and feel left in the dark about pay practices."— Demian Bulwa (@demianbulwa) October 10, 2022
By @ekadvany https://t.co/Qh5UEOyesf
But the vibe is not so great according to four employees who just filed a class-action lawsuit for wage theft on Friday, as the Chronicle reports. The Chronicle piece speaks to some of those four employees, plus two others not named in the suit, that describes the wage theft and “illegal tip distribution,” also noting that employees claim they were “refused legally required breaks, not paid for overtime and otherwise feel left in the dark about their employer’s pay practices.”
This is just a month in! And this is a class action suit, so anyone who’s worked at a California STK Steakhouse now or at any point in the last four years can also join in.
The Chronicle says that complaints began during Dreamforce, when workers staged a walkout over poor conditions — the restaurant was apparently softly open to cater to the conference before its grand opening.
Some of the allegations are certainly alarming from a customer standpoint. “A bartender said she was forced to work despite showing her bosses a positive COVID-19 test,” the Chronicle reports. “Another said he was infected by a manager who worked while positive for the virus.”
Live your best brunch life at STK Steakhouse & BRUNCH BETTER with the besties every Saturday & Sunday. Brunch Features, Bottomless Mimosas, Live DJ & more. https://t.co/PD2WvhZNLe pic.twitter.com/9kur1jPPe1— STK Steakhouse (@eatSTK) October 1, 2022
STK Steakhouse is owned by Denver-based One Group Hospitality Inc., which also owns the Kona Grill and Heliot Steakhouse. As you see in their promotional video above, it’s a steakhouse that tries to go for a nightclub kind of atmosphere with live DJs, and describes itself as “destination dining at its finest.”
But not the finest place to work, according to those who spoke with the Chronicle. “Some said they have worked as long as 14 hours with no overtime pay and were reprimanded by managers when they asked to take breaks,” according to the Chronicle’s report. Employees added that they “would sometimes arrive for work and learn that they had been scheduled for double shifts.” Additionally, per the Chron, “The lawsuit also says the restaurant deducted 30 minutes from employees’ work hours to account for meal periods regardless of whether they actually took a break.”
We also have tipping complaints, which are common among restaurant workers these days, but this sounds especially troublesome. According to the lawsuit, STK was engaging in tip-pooling and may have been allowing managers to share in tips, which is illegal in California.
Arlo Uriarte, a lawyer who's represented workers in a number of Bay Area wage-theft cases, calls this one of the more "outlier, abusive situations" he's seen, which may account for why it's bubbled up so soon after the restaurant's opening.
Wage theft allegations, or even admissions of guilt, generally do not kill a restaurant’s reputation in San Francisco (and at this point, these are all still allegations). Burma Superstar had hundreds of wage theft allegations for years, and they remain popular and well-respected. We’ve also seen acknowledged wage theft cases at Chinatown’s acclaimed Z&Y Restaurant, Yank Sing, and Udupi Palace, and people keep eating there. After all, wage theft does not directly affect the customer’s dining experience!
But we have never seen allegations that restaurant employees were forced to work while positive for COVID-19, and no doubt the restaurant will deny this, because that could be fairly damaging.
STK was previously sued by a former employee for wrongful termination in Southern California, a lawsuit that made multiple allegations about the workplace itself. STK denied those allegations and that suit was dismissed in 2021, though it's unclear if a settlement also occurred.
Image: Andrew D. via Yelp