‘It Really Stung': Boston Restaurants Lose Staff to Encore

The opening of Encore Boston Harbor and its many restaurants has brought new competition to Boston's dining scene.

With more 5,000 positions initially advertised, the casino has prompted many longtime servers to leave some of the city’s most popular spots.

"Originally, it really stung," said Chris Coombs, the chef and owner of several restaurants in the city.

At Deuxave, which Coombs opened nearly a decade ago, two servers left for the promise of higher wages and a benefits package. While servers in the city typically make just over $4 per hour, plus tips, Encore has offered a higher base pay, along with health insurance and paid time off.

"Three more dollars an hour to each one of my servers would put every single one of my restaurants out of business," Coombs said. "Gone."

The challenge is nothing new for the city's restaurant industry, which has seen a shrinking workforce in recent years. The arrival of bigger companies has only exacerbated the problem.

"Everybody got nervous about Eataly when Eataly opened up, and they had 500 jobs," said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. "[Encore] is 10 Eatalys."

Aside from the pay, many restaurant owners said Boston's cost of living has made it harder for servers to remain in the area on their current wages. While the expenses have increased for restaurants, consumers have not responded well to increased prices.

"People won't pay that much money for food and drinks. So it's squeezing the bottom line to a point where it's become very difficult to operate," said Colin Lynch, chef and partner of Bar Mezzana in Boston's South End.

But the appeal of wealthy brands has not worked on everyone yet. One of Coombs' top servers who left for Encore returned after just six weeks on the job.

"It was kind of a turn and burn thing. People were coming in from the casino. It was brand new. It was just a completely different atmosphere," said Alyssa Mann.

A recruiter who contacted Mann said there was the possibility the position would be negotiated by a union, however, when she started at Encore Mann learned that would not happen for at least a year.

"You think the grass is always greener, but it turns out it's not," she said.

While the competition from bigger brands has posed challenges, Coombs hopes his company's approach to its employees helps retain them.

"I know that I'm not going to be able to have a more competitive, comprehensive benefits package than a company that has tens of thousands of employees worldwide," Coombs explained. "But we can compete on a human level and really caring about people and their wellness and well-being."

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