Creating Happy People

Creating Happy People

Creating Happy People is the vision behind Bonanno Concepts. It is my personal and professional mission, and it’s given us laser focus, as a group, in training, in guest experience and follow up —in every detail of how we approach business, right down to menu and venue design (Denver Milk Market is a great example of a setting that aims to wreak happiness!).

Creating Happy People has been a mantra for me during dark moments when I wonder What’s the Goal Here. We had a collective dark moment like that, you and I and every one of us —a whole shared year of What’s the Goal Here that peaked (or plummeted) for me, and for our restaurant group, when the state of Colorado gave us the go ahead to reopen our businesses for more take out food. Until that precise moment, the goal was simply to be of use, to thrive, and to help our neighbors thrive with us. There was communion through the actions behind food and drink, and the until we reopened in earnest, the goal was clear: survive with some sense of meaning. Reopening, though. Well, that meant inviting a team into this journey. It meant chemicals and masks and distances and protocols and it. Was. Intense.

What’s the Goal Here?

I’m reliving this very specific moment, where human interaction was fraught with the unknown, and the absence of institutional oversight and guidance made me keenly aware of my responsibility to my sons, my managers,  and our community at large, because this moment, in a room illuminated with screens and taught faces, this was the moment that put a fee on Creating Happy People

We met virtually, because that was the only legal way to gather 43 people. The discussion was tipping. Bonanno Concepts takes pride in our leadership in the restaurant space and the business community at large, and every one of the 43 people in that room had taken some step in the past year toward polishing that leadership. Olivia created the first Covid Playbook in the country and shared those resources. Laura hosted the State’s first virtual gala. Drew bottled the first to go cocktails, Scott turned Milk Market into an emergency grocer, and Tyler brought food to hospitals and so on. We lead and we shape and we take the weight of leadership seriously. So. Tipping. And a real moment of What’s the Goal Here.

If the goal is to Create Happy People, tipping is an archaic, lopsided way to manifest happiness and you know it. I know it. The bartender who can’t make the leap into management because it will cost her tips knows it, and she knows it when she’s saying goodnight to the dishwasher who had every bit as much to do with the guest experience as she did, but works unseen and therefore unthanked in the form of tips. Each of the 43 of us in that room knew it, knew it before the shutdown, had been following the actions of Danny Meyer closely to see how his “Hospitality Included” experiment was going in New York, and all of us were mightily disappointed when that experiment failed. Could we pick that mantle up? Did we have the courage to change an institutional mindset? No, not courage —we were living in courage in that moment —did we have the energy? Remember, we believed we were all risking our actual lives, coming to work in the face of the unknown, boarding and unboarding doors and windows in a protesting, angry, helpless time. Such a helpless time. It had to mean something. Be something.
What’s the Goal Here?

Emma introduced the topic in a group email, and Frank and Nick developed a plan, a legal way to eliminate tipping, and today we were here to hatch a plan that needed universal buy in among this virtually assembled team. We had to be in complete agreement because going tipless meant sacrifices. There were financial risks – for Frank and I, it meant giving up a tax credit at the end of the year, and paying our front of house a larger hourly wage from notoriously miniscule margins. For managers, it meant collecting a fee and transparently, equitably redistributing it —openly and continually tweaking that formula toward fairness. For front of house workers, it was a trade of cash in hand for uncertainty, and for all of us, it would mean training, and retraining –not just our teams, but our community, our guests, and the occasional voyeur dipping in to check on the experiment. We’d have to announce it online, and post it on every menu; announce it again when diners were seated, and maybe tell them again on their way out the door. Perhaps even one day I’d have to write about how we got here and break it down for the general public —because in two years, we might still be training and retraining.

It could cost employees. It could cost guests.

Looking at all those framed faces on my iPad. Well. What’s the Goal Here? I’d love to say that here is where we wrapped that meeting up with sunshine and rainbows and new intention, but friends, it was not and we did not. It a heated, intense weighing of pros and cons, and it took nearly two hours to get to a vote. But the vote was unanimous.

The verbiage: “We are a tipless house. The Creating Happy People fee makes that possible! The 22% we collect is divided equitably among every person, front of house to back, who contributes to your experience tonight. Thank you for being part of the revolution!”

The goals:

*Happy kitchen team through pay equity

*Happy managers through job satisfaction and employee retention

*Happy employees through hourly wages that align with sales (so that we are truly all in this together) and clear fiduciary outcomes

*Happy guests who don’t have to navigate the uneven terrain of tipping


The distribution:

The general manager and executive chef at each restaurant work together to set the exact percentages. Four percent off the top goes to each restaurant toward credit card processing and the unprecedented cost of takeout vessels. Frank and I do not partake in the distribution or in the percentage allocation.


The legality:

We were horrified and relieved when the Department of Labor audited Denver Milk Market and Osteria Marco in the wake of our pay changes. Horrified, because we clearly had more training ahead. Relieved, because ours is a just and fair system and our approach is entirely legal.


The outcome: Are we Creating Happy People? We continue to audit internally, but with a full two years of data under our belt,

  • *Our kitchen earns roughly 22% more than they did before we implemented the CHP fee
  • *The majority of the 43 people who took that initial vote are still with us, wreaking happiness, and
  • *Front of house wages are up 10% from 2019.
  • *Guest outcome is mostly anecdotal, but I am thanked daily


I’m so glad you’re reading this, that you continue to question us and challenge us and be interested in How it’s Going —but mostly, I’m just thrilled that you keep coming back to have another bite of fusilli or warm donuts to take home for the morning, that you trust us to bring you joy and satisfaction. Thank you.

There is a chance that one day we’ll give up on this experiment, the way Danny Meyers did, because to succeed at this act of humanity is to change and adjust and evolve and (hopefully) grow. In the interim, though,

Thank you for being part of the revolution! We look forward to delighting you.