‘South Park’ creators ban tips at ‘Disneyland of Mexican restaurants.’ Some are upset

Thomas Peipert/AP

People around the nation have been anxiously waiting for Colorado’s iconic Casa Bonita restaurant to reopen after “South Park” creators bought and renovated the restaurant.

After weeks of delays, the pink palace — which the Denver Gazette dubbed the “Disneyland of Mexican restaurants” — is finally open, and it comes with an unconventional payment policy.

The establishment and entertainment venue opened to the public on Friday, June 30 with $30-per-hour salaries for waitstaff in lieu of supplemental tips, Axios Denver reported.

That policy strayed from the original plan to pay servers and bartenders $14.27 and $15.27 respectively — before tips, KDVR reported in January.

There’s a couple of working theories about what prompted the change.

Management told the Denver Post it was because guests simply weren’t tipping during the restaurant’s soft opening, since they already paid $39.99 for entry tickets that include a meal.

“We believe that’s due to our unconventional, pre-pay ticketing system,” management told the outlet in an emailed statement. “In order to provide a higher-than-average, dependable wage, we shifted to a no-tipping model and doubled the hourly rate to more than $30/hr for our service staff. This shift also benefits our guests, who can enjoy Casa Bonita without incurring unexpected costs.”

Divers, a cave, even a mariachi band

The 52,000 square foot restaurant and entertainment space offers indoor cliff divers, a walk-through cave called Black Bart’s Cave, and mariachi band that roams the restaurant, KTVU reported.

It’s unclear whether salaries have also changed for entertainment staff — who dive into pools from three-story tall man-made cliffs inside the restaurant.

KDVR originally reported the cliff divers would earn between $21 and $25 per hour.

Out of 256 employees, 93 were affected by the change, the Denver Post reported.

The increased hourly rate is supposed to ensure more stable income when the restaurant isn’t full, Axios Denver reported. But employees told the outlet it could result in a decrease in total wages, possibly by hundreds of dollars per shift, when the restaurant is near capacity.

A spokesperson for Casa Bonita did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for information.

Part of the problem is employees were given only one day to decide if they wanted to sign a new contract — or quit, the outlet reported.

“Casa Bonita values its employees,” spokesperson Stefanie Jones told Axios Denver in a statement. “Based on the recent beta testing of our one-of-a-kind restaurant, we have adjusted our compensation system for efficiency and fairness.”

The ‘South Park’ connection

The iconic pink palace first opened in Lakewood almost 50 years ago, KTVU reported. “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker bought it in 2021 after it shut down amid COVID lockdowns and its owners filed for bankruptcy, the station reported.

Stone and Parker poured $40 million into renovations and upgrades, the station reported. Casa Bonita was featured in an episode of the animated sitcom in 2003.

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