Why these Bay Area restaurants put every worker’s name on the menu


At the end of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Californios menu is a list of 32 names. It’s a roll call of the people who keep the restaurant running every night, from kitchen runners to sous chefs. Like a theater poster or newspaper headline, it prominently details each employee and their title.

Californios started adding personal names to its menu a few years ago to give credit not just to the most visible players – owners and chefs – but to the entire team.

“I want others to feel recognized, to feel seen,” said chef-owner Val Cantu.

Recently, more and more Bay Area restaurants are listing all employee names on menus, from the more casual day trip to Oakland to acclaimed fine-dining eateries like Oakland’s Commis and Lazy Bear’s. San Francisco. This is a significant deviation from the standard of who gets credit in the food industry, often reserved for a few individuals, such as the chef. Those adopting the practice say they hope it will spur conversations about pay inequality and kitchen culture.

The trend also reflects the current moment in the restaurant industry caused by the pandemic: while many workers left the industry, those who remained began to organize around better wages, alternatives to tipping and healthier and more transparent workplaces. In New York, the famous vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy recently started assigning the dishes to the sous chefs who created them. But the Bay Area is perhaps the first culinary scene where adding full staff names to menus is gaining momentum.

California Commissioner Siddhi Balaji, whose name appears on the menu of the Michelin-starred restaurant, prepares for dinner on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

At Mago in Oakland, the inclusion of staff names on the tasting menu signifies a more profound shift in the Colombian-influenced fine-dining restaurant. Owner Mark Liberman added names to the menu when Mago reopened for outdoor dining during the pandemic. With only four employees working at the time, responsibilities were shared more than ever before: the kitchen staff checked diners’ vaccination cards at the door, the bartender cleaned the tables. Liberman also began distributing tips equally. Reflecting the team effort on the menu made sense, Liberman said.

“The roles of the dining room and the kitchen have been more blurred,” he said. “It created more team unity.”

Californian pastry chef Sophie Hau had never seen her name appear on a menu before. She came from the famous New York fine-dining restaurant Eleven Madison Park, where she was one of 11 people on the baking team.

“You’re really just a body in a restaurant like that,” she said.

Hau said she was often stopped by customers in Californios asking, “Which one are you on the menu list?” She and other staff are tagged on Instagram when they come up with a new dish. Instead of feeling like a replaceable cog in a machine, she feels valued. “Being important in a team is a really good feeling,” she said.

Californios captain Jonathan Hampton and staff join in a unified cheer during the lineup at the fine dining restaurant in San Francisco on May 20, 2022.

Californios captain Jonathan Hampton and staff join in a unified cheer during the lineup at the fine dining restaurant in San Francisco on May 20, 2022.

Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Lazy Bear owner David Barzelay is the person diners ask to take pictures with when they land a ticketed reservation at the influential San Francisco restaurant. But it’s the co-chefs, Taylor Zoller and Tim Jacob, who are responsible for much of Lazy Bear’s food these days. The restaurant was an early adopter of split credit: its menu has featured every staff name since it opened in 2014.

“In most restaurants with an executive chef and a chef de cuisine, the chef de cuisine often sets the tone for the kitchen and provides a larger portion of the menu than the executive chef,” Barzelay said. “That’s probably the case at the moment with Lazy Bear, but our head chef doesn’t get as much credit as I do, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Pizza hit Square Pie Guys doesn’t have paper menus, but its website now lists all employees with their photos and titles. Dishwashers and prep cooks are deliberately featured first, with owners and managers at the bottom of the page.

“What we’re trying to say is that everyone is equally important,” co-owner Danny Stoller said.

Square Pie Guys created the webpage during the pandemic, and the owners hope that showing the faces and names of typically less visible employees will elevate conversations about living wages in the Bay Area.

“I would love for a dishwasher working for Square Pie Guys to be able to buy a house in the Bay Area. (But) I don’t think I can get away with charging $200 for a pizza,” Stoller said.

The kitchen staff, whose names have been on the Lazy Bear menu since the restaurant opened, are preparing meals in August 2020.

The kitchen staff, whose names have been on the Lazy Bear menu since the restaurant opened, are preparing meals in August 2020.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle 2020

Popular Mission District spot Ernest leans towards the more traditional, listing chefs and cooks but no dishwashers or dining room staff. Chef-owner Brandon Rice says his name recognition helped him open his first restaurant and he wants to do the same for his kitchen team.

From the day Daytrip opened last summer, the bright yellow menu featured employee names prominently. It was a no-brainer, said co-owner Stella Dennig, to recognize the tight-knit team that contributed to the restaurant’s early success. This followed the owners’ stated commitment to transparency, fairness and employee empowerment. Daytrip adds a 20% service charge in lieu of tipping, and the menu asks diners to use their pronouns for all staff. Lazy Bear also charges a 20% service fee, which helps fund higher salaries for kitchen staff.

Dennig, while proud of Daytrip’s menu, is wary of giving it too much attention. She fears that staff names on menus are becoming a fashionable trend – a form of virtue that doesn’t necessarily mean workers are taken care of behind the scenes.

“I would never assume anywhere that putting names on a menu is automatically a good thing. It’s a slippery slope,” she said.

But for Californian pastry chef Hau, it remains a significant signal that change is happening, albeit slowly.

“This is a pivotal moment in the restaurant industry,” Hau said. “It’s definitely time for cooks and lower restaurant titles to have a little more power.”

Elena Kadvany is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ekadvany

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