A handful of restaurants across the country are trying to revolutionize tipping by taking it out of the equation entirely. Well, sort of. These no-tipping establishments, like Abrusci’s in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and Dirt Candy in New York City, add a 18-20 percent “service fee” into each customer’s bill.
One reason restauranteurs have adopted this polarizing policy is to make life easier for their customers. No one wants to do math at the end of a meal, no matter how simple it is. They’d rather engage in light conversation or contemplatively pick their teeth while slowly digesting their recent feast. The other, more major reason to increase staff pay.
After turning against tipping in July, Abrusci’s has been able to consistently pay its full-time staff (including cooks and hostesses) $15 per hour, wrote the Denver Post today. Employees also now receive two weeks paid vacation a year. Wow.
Denver restaurant owner Frank Bonanno said that getting rid of tipping means better pay for the front and back of the house and Abrusci’s is proving it. He’s even thinking of making his popular French bistro, Mizuna, into an anti-tip eatery.
But even Bonanno will have some pushback, just like Abrusci’s did. It’s been a challenge for the restaurant to go against such a hardline tradition, despite its good intentions. Speaking to the Denver Post, one Abrusci’s customer said that he should have the right to choose what amount to tip his server and “rate customer service with a tip.”
That’s been the unspoken rule behind tipping since the early 17th century. Back in 2008, the New York Times wrote about this looming no-tipping trend. Referencing Kerry Segrave’s book, “Tipping,” the Times noted that the custom is traced back to aristocrats in Tudor England, who gave change to the lower class for services. One restaurant even put out a bowl inscribed with the words “To Insure Promptitude,” which could very well be where the word” tip” comes from.
Servers at Dirt Candy vow to always be prompt, regardless of tips. In April, Eater interviewed Amanda Cohen, owner of the hip vegetarian restaurant in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She explained that her wait staff was excited about the move. They were happy to consistently make $200 a night and not risk losing tips if the restaurant was slow (or if particular eaters weren’t feeling very gratuitous).
“They’re coming into work and they’re getting paid,” Cohen told Eater. “And if we had a blizzard, they’d still get paid. So they seem pretty happy with it.”
This no-tipping thing seems to really be catching on in New York’s booming service industry. In October, Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group cut out tipping and added service fees at each of his 13 restaurants, saying that this model will keep service quality in check.
“If a restaurant values that its patrons receive attentive service, they will make attentive service mandatory,” Meyer said.
In Denver, restaurant consultant John Imbergamo thinks that this no-tipping movement won’t stick. He calls it a “smoke-and-mirrors game” because the restaurant is getting this extra money through a service fee instead of raising its prices to pay its staff. Still, Abrusci’s won’t be accepting tips anytime soon.
What do you think about this no-tipping initiative? Would paying a 20 percent added service fee be easier or should you have the right to choose? Let us know in the comments below.