The Culinary Institute of America is rethinking casual dining, pushing past the open-kitchen trend by sending chefs into the dining room. At The Restaurant at CIA Copia—an education center in Napa Valley, Calif., once operated by Julia Child—chefs are the servers, a setup aimed squarely at mitigating the wage gap between the front and back of house. “We’ve always noticed the disparity between cooks’ pay and waiters’ pay,” says Waldy Malouf, senior director of food and beverage operations for the CIA. “We graduate a lot of chefs, so it’s in our students’ interest to think about this.” Here’s a closer look at Copia’s service format.
Each cook mans one station in the open kitchen, producing several dishes that they take out to the dining room on a tray or cart. A head chef, dubbed the “air traffic controller,” directs cooks to tables that have not yet tried each dish. The chefs hear immediate feedback from guests, and either alter items that night based on the comments or consider them when creating the next day’s menu.
Spreading the dough
On top of the $60 to $65 average check for California-inspired meals, diners are charged an 18% gratuity, which goes into a pool for customer-facing staff. Cooks may have a higher hourly rate, so table hosts receive a larger portion of the pool, Malouf says.