On Tuesday, a lawsuit for wage theft was filed by two former Canlis servers that accused one of Seattle’s most iconic restaurants of a range of violations, including telling customers that a “service fee” added to checks was given to employees when in fact Canlis was keeping the money. The Seattle Times first reported the story.
Canlis has been owned and operated by the Canlis family since it opened in 1950; the kitchen is run by Aisha Ibrahim, who took over as executive chef in 2021. The lawsuit, according to the Times, alleges that the restaurant “failed to pay wages for first-day trial/training work” and “that it required or allowed employees to perform work off the clock.”
The suit also says that the restaurant’s practices around its “service charges” did not match what it told diners. Though menus and bills informed guests that funds from the mandatory 20 percent service fee “are distributed to our team,” according to the Times, in fact the fees were treated as ordinary restaurant revenue, the lawsuit claims. The plaintiffs say in their filing that at a May 2022 staff meeting, co-owner Brian Canlis admitted this, saying, “The restaurant takes and keeps all the money.”
According to the suit, in summer 2022 the restaurant updated its materials so that the language concerning the service fees instead read, “A 20% service charge has been added to your final bill and is retained by Canlis.” (A review of past versions of the Canlis website on the Internet Archive shows that the “menu” portion of the site added a note about the service charge sometime in 2018; as early as September 2018 it said the money was “retained by Canlis” and did not mention distributing it to staff.)
A spokesperson for Canlis declined to comment on advice of the restaurant’s legal counsel. Brian Canlis told the Times, “This is very recent — we’re still digesting it.”