What began with a generous gesture ended with a waitress losing her job.
One evening in early December, Grant Wise dined at the Oven & Tap restaurant in Bentonville, Arkansas. The dinner was special, because Wise loves the place, and because he had chosen it as a place for his $100 Dinner Club to meet.
Club members agree to tip $100 apiece at restaurants in town. More than 30 members were present on this night, and others who didn’t dine at the Oven & Tap donated money for the tip.
At the end of the evening, server Ryan Brandt was one of two waitresses splitting $4,400 in tips from the Dinner Club, according to KNWA-TV.
“It was an incredible thing to do, and to see her reaction was awesome, to see what that meant to her the impact that it’s had on her life already,” Wise said.
But the restaurant and Wise had different ideas of how the money would go.
Wise said he checked to make sure the money would go to the servers, and to them only, and was told it would.
But Brandt, 35, said she was told the tip would be shared with all of the other staff members who participate in preparing a meal and cleaning up.
“I was told that I was going to be giving my cash over to my shift manager, and I would be taking home 20 percent,” she said.
When Wise heard about that, he wanted the money back, and he gave Brandt the amount he wanted her to get.
The restaurant owners “immediately honored that request as they have an absolute right to tip whoever they want,” said Natalie Ghidotti, CEO of a Little Rock-based public relations firm, according to The Washington Post.
Oven & Tap paid about $7,000 to other staff who worked that night serving Wise’s party “because we feel the entire staff worked so hard that night to serve a large party of 32 people,” Ghidotti wrote.
Nope. Five days later, Brandt was fired.
Brandt and Bill Horton, Brandt’s attorney, said Brandt was let go because she told Wise how his party’s tip money was distributed.
The owners of the restaurant would not discuss why Brandt was fired.
“Oven & Tap doesn’t deliver terminations lightly. Because we value our employees and highly respect their privacy, we never discuss personnel issues,” the restaurant said in a statement to KNWA.
“The server who was terminated several days after the group dined with us was not let go because she chose to keep the tip money. The other two servers who received generous tips that evening from the Witly organization — including one who also received $2,200 — are still members of our team,” the restaurant said in reference to the company Wise runs.
“Oven & Tap has always been committed to providing fair and quality compensation to all members of our restaurant team. We recognize and regret that a recent incident in our restaurant could have been handled differently by reminding our team how we would be splitting any tips prior to the event, however, our policy has always been to participate in a tip pool/share with the staff. Tip sharing is a common restaurant industry practice that we follow to ensure all of our team members are adequately compensated for their hard work.”
The restaurant also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Brandt, according to the Post, threatening to sue and saying that by telling her story she has damaged the restaurant’s reputation.
A letter she received said due to her telling her story, Oven & Tap has received “countless unwarranted 1 Star Reviews … an outpouring of negative reviews, which will undoubtedly impact” it, and that the restaurant “has now been cast as a restaurant that treats its employees poorly.”
Brandt said being fired “was devastating.”
“I borrowed a significant amount for student loans,” she told KNWA. “Most of them were turned off because of the pandemic, but they’re turning back on in January, and that’s a harsh reality.”
Enter the man who started it all by trying to do something good. Wise started a GoFundMe page to help Brandt. As of Dec. 16, the fund was over $16,000 – far beyond its initial goal of $6,000.
“I do not personally know Ryan outside of her waiting on us in past Oven & Tap dinner outings,” Wise wrote. “I do not know what type of employee she was outside of what I personally experienced and what we’ve read from other people commenting that were her regulars. My only goal is to help her get through this experience with the least amount of stress and anxiety possible and onto whatever her next opportunity may be.”
Wise did not have a bad word for either side in the dispute.
“We chose Oven & Tap because it was one of our favorite local places to eat and we wanted our clients from all over the country to have the same experiences that we’ve grown to love over the last couple of years. We love the food and we love the atmosphere. Our clients felt the exact same way after dinner was over,” Wise wrote.
“My intention is not to cause any harm to what was one of my favorite places in Northwest Arkansas but simply to help Ryan get back on her feet. I thought we did a good thing in hosting our $100 Dinner Club there and was so grateful to get to bless the servers that evening.”
Oh. One final note. With all the publicity she got over losing her job, Brandt was able to find another, and she has gone back to work — as a waitress at another restaurant.
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