Did a bunch of singing servers steal $400K from this restaurant?

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

If you go to the Stardust Diner in New York City you’re definitely in for a show.

The diner, which opened in 1987 and is now located on 51st Street, has become a popular spot for tourists who not only enjoy hamburgers and turkey clubs, but also the entertainment. That’s provided by the servers and wait staff who belt out show tunes and popular Broadway songs while, according to this report in the New York Post) they “strut on the backs of the red-vinyl booths and toss out straws to the diners, who are also showered in confetti.”

But some of the “Stardusters” – as they like to call themselves – may not have just been singing. The owners of the restaurant are accusing nearly 60 of them of stealing almost $400,000 and now prosecutors from the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office have taken up the investigation. How did they allegedly do this? It’s the old “floating drink” trick. And if you own a restaurant you should pay close attention.

Here’s how it works. According to the New York Post, citing court documents, a common item (like a soda) is bought and paid for by a customer. The waiter then takes the item off the check in the restaurant’s point-of-sale system and pockets the difference between what was paid and the reduced bill. The soda is then transferred to another check and the process is repeated. One waiter allegedly stole $38,167.34 during a four-year period. That’s a lot of sodas!

These are all allegations, but one thing’s certain: the relationship between the restaurant’s owners–who took over in early 2016–and their employees has been rocky.

A lawsuit filed by employees at the diner last December accused management of wrongfully requiring them to share tips and failing to pay them overtime. Another lawsuit filed in April contends that the diner didn’t provide an appropriate place for mothers who worked there to pump breast milk. Workers there began organizing which allegedly led to significant firings in September 2016 and January 2017 and now the National Labor Relations Board will hear whether some employees were fired because of these activities.

Who knew there could so much drama on Broadway…


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