When Steve Sontheimer moved from Pittsburgh to D.C. in 2014, one restaurant immediately caught his eye. “Rose’s Luxury was starting to hit its stride,” he says. The long-time restaurant industry professional noticed how Chef Aaron Silverman offered his employees health insurance. “There was buzz around town in the industry about the way they were doing things. It got my attention by being progressive and forward-thinking. It put the company on the map as far as I was concerned.” 

When a position opened at Rose’s Luxury’s sister restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls, Sontheimer says he leapt at the opportunity to join the company in large part due to the benefits package. He’s been a captain at the fine dining, tasting-menu restaurant with two Michelin stars since September 2018. 

The benefits package Silverman offers employees at Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple and Pearls, and Little Pearl has only grown more comprehensive over the past five years. In addition to providing full-coverage health and dental insurance to all staffers who work four or more shifts per week, employees are also privy to paid time off, parental leave, and free gym memberships.

Now Silverman seeks to add even more incentives, including a 401(k), additional paid time off, and an employee assistance program that covers confidential, professional mental health, substance abuse, and family counseling. In order to do so, he’s shifting some of the cost to diners.

“In order to expand what we currently offer, we’ll start including an additional 5 percent charge on all checks at Pineapple and Pearls starting on Oct. 1,” he explains. “For most of our guests, their bill is paid in advance online at the time of booking. Therefore, when booking on the website from now on, there will be a new line item called the ‘People Program.’” 

Dinner for two in the dining room at Pineapple and Pearls with standard beverage pairings and no glitzy add-ons costs $650 inclusive of tax and gratuity. The additional 5 percent of the People Program, $32.50, would bring a twosome’s total bill up to $682.50, or $341.25 per person.

These numbers will fluctuate based on beverage pairings and whether diners are seated in the dining room or at the bar. Silverman says aside from the administrative costs of running the program, 100 percent of the charge will go toward funding benefits and workplace initiatives.

“Our People Program is a promise to our team and our guests to continue to create and improve this environment,” Silverman says. “Unfortunately, many of these [benefits] are woefully elusive in our industry. It is our hope that other restaurants will be inspired to pursue similar programs and carry out our belief that the restaurant industry can be a great and sustainable place to work.”

The People Program is launching at Pineapple and Pearls, but Silverman will likely roll it out at his other restaurants. 

Sontheimer hopes guests will respond well. “I think most people will,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was the occasional raised eyebrow, but overall it will go over well.” He draws that conclusion based on the reaction Pineapple and Pearls receives from guests when they read a note at the end of the meal informing them that a donation has been made on their behalf to the World Food Programme.

“That is something that’s the cherry on top at the end of the meal,” Sontheimer continues. “After enjoying an indulgent experience to find out we’re doing something good for the world has an impact on the guest. I hope this will connect with them in the same way.”

Pineapple and Pearls, 715 8th St. SE; (202) 595-7375; pineappleandpearls.com