susur lee

Susur Lee restaurants under scrutiny after staff backlash

World-renowned chef and occasional reality TV star Susur Lee is under fire this week for allegedly forcing staff at three of his restaurants to pay for common serving mistakes, like spilling drinks and order errors, with their tip money.

Bartenders and servers at Lee, Fring’s, and the recently-closed Bent told CBC News that when they would pick up their tip envelopes from work, they routinely saw numbers written on them to denote how much had been taken out for “IOUs.”

For one employee, this amounted to over $100 in deductions over just one week.

"It was pretty laughable to show to my other server and bartender friends to show how little money I was making for how much I was working," former Fring’s bartender Dylan Turner told the CBC.


A post shared by chefgrantsoto (@chefgrantsoto) on

Rumours of the company’s tip-deduction policy started swirling over a week ago when the satirical, Toronto-based Instagram account, @ChefGrantSoto, shared some private messages he’d received from Lee’s employees.

“Basically any mistake an employee makes throughout all of the restaurants is paid in full price to the Lee’s,” wrote one anonymous staffer in a text message to Soto. “Someone walks out on a $400 bill? That’s an IOU. You accidentally drop a bottle of wine? That’s an IOU.”

“I watched a teenager accidentally spill a cup of coffee on a lady and the lady was told we would cover her bill,” the employee continued. “This young runner had to pay $300 out of his tips due to an IOU. He was just a kid.”

Once the influential Instagram account started sharing messages like these, more and more people came forward with their stories.

Susur Lee

Screenshot of one of the many messages received by @ChefGrantSoto outlining the IOU and tip policy at Lee's restaurants.

“IOU’s are super illegal,” wrote one person who wanted to keep their name private. “I don’t know how they can get away with taking money from employees.”

According to the Ministry of Labour’s website, they can’t.

“As of June 10, 2016, an employer generally cannot withhold, make deductions from, or make an employee return his or her tips and other gratuities except as permitted by the ESA,” reads a document related to the Employment Standards Act.

“An employer is also prohibited from making deductions, etc., from his or her employees’ tips and other gratuities,” it continues, “for such things as spillage, breakage, losses or damage.”

When asked about the allegations last week, Susur Lee Restaurant Group public relations coordinator Kelsea Knowles told CBC News that the IOU policy was no longer in effect.

Knowles did not say when the policy was discontinued, but according to messages from people claiming to be current employees posted by Soto, it was just last weekend – after stories about the IOU and tip policy started surfacing on social media.

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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