Stories / Impact

To Build a Better Restaurant, Invest in Benefits

Elizabeth Tilton talks about navigating benefits

Elizabeth Tilton

May 20, 2022


Photo of Elizabeth Tilton sitting on a black couch with a white pillow in the backrground
Elizabeth Tilton. Photo: Vicky Giu

Last month, we shared our Open for Good: Compensation, Benefits, and Growth Guide, a free online resource full of insights from industry leaders who shifted their business models in this new era of the restaurant industry. Below we spoke with Elizabeth Tilton of Oyster Sunday who spoke about navigating benefits for the betterment of your staff and your business.


Over many decades, the restaurant and hospitality industries have been challenged by a problematic workplace culture, spanning issues such as sexual harassment, mental health, substance abuse, discrimination, wage inconsistencies, racism, and classism, to name a few. The pandemic has only intensified the industry’s vulnerabilities, including in recruiting and retaining talented staff, underscoring the need to create more respectful work environments and provide a sustainable benefits structure for all hospitality professionals.

At the same time, traditional revenue models have prevented many well-intentioned operators from investing in meaningful employee benefits. This friction is, in part, driving the hiring crisis that so many businesses are currently facing around the United States. We are at a reckoning where too many workers feel forced to choose between their well-being and compensation, weighing factors such as health care, rent, transportation, and child care—to name only a few. Yet, in the wake of the turbulence created by the pandemic, innovative operators and organizations in our industry are creating alternative solutions.

Navigating small-group health insurance plans—let alone finding one that is affordable for small business owners— can be a challenging process. We speak from direct experience, having gone through this process in order to offer health care to the team at Oyster Sunday. Below are a few different options recommended by health care brokers, CPAs, and legal counsel that employers can take to secure health insurance for their team.

  1. Health care broker: there are individuals across the country that help find plans for small businesses depending on scale and location. We are actively connecting employers with brokers.
  2. PEO: in addition to small-group health insurance plans, a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) is an entity that enters into a joint-employment relationship with an employer. In this relationship, the employer leases their employees to the PEO, thereby allowing the PEO to share and manage many employee-related responsibilities such as health care plans. A few examples of PEOs include Gusto, JustWorks, and ADP.
  3. QSEHRA: a Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) allows employers who don’t offer group health coverage to help employees pay for medical expenses. Such arrangements can be used to help pay a households’ health care costs, such as monthly premiums for qualifying health coverage. Search for more.

To get started, we recommend the following steps:

  • Survey your team: send out a survey to better understand who is interested in coverage and/or who already receives coverage outside of your small business plan. Participation plays a key part when it comes to group plans and premiums.
  • Run the numbers: based on participation, forecast what is possible for your business to contribute based on your cash position, revenue forecast, and future team growth (if applicable). Remember that the higher the company’s contribution, the lower the barrier of entry for your team, ideally resulting in higher participation. However, this needs to be balanced with what makes sense regarding sustainable growth for your company.
  • Receive quotes: reach out to health care brokers and PEOs to find out what is best for your company.
  • Prepare your team: let them know that in order to receive quotes, you may need to request specific information from each of them to enable you to properly bid for a plan. Make sure to have a good grasp on your company’s contribution and your team’s participation. A tip: health care brokers and PEOs do not get paid per quote—only if you convert with them and purchase a plan. We encourage you to reach out to multiple brokers to ensure you are working with one who understands your company and who finds plans that meet your exact needs.
  • Run the numbers (again): once you receive quotes, run the numbers again to determine the best financial path forward for your company. If a small business health plan or PEO is not the right fit, QSEHRA is a great option to ensure you are contributing to your employees’ health care while giving them the option to enroll in the open market with programs [available through] the Affordable Care Act.

Oyster Sunday Benefits Program provides direct access to preventative care for underinsured or uninsured members of your team—plus discounted access to a well-rounded package of lifestyle benefits designed to fit the specific needs of food and hospitality teams. The JBF community receives a 10% discount, learn more here.

Download the Open for Good: Compensation, Benefits, and Growth Guide

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Elizabeth Tilton is the founder and CEO of Oyster Sunday, an operating system for independent restaurants and small food and beverage brands. To learn more, follow @oystersunday and @elizabethtilton on Instagram.