Would You Pay 35% More to Not Tip at a Restaurant?
When I was kid, my dad would make the same joke every time he saw a tip jar: "You want a tip? Don't stand up in a canoe!" It subsequently became the reason I don't take my dad out to any place where other humans are present, but also remains a vigilant reminder of the triviality of tipping and all it implies.
Before you flip out and spit your "server's rights!" vitriol in my general direction, consider that the act of tipping is harming the customer, professional servers, and the service industry as a whole, while affluent restaurateurs get away with skimping on their employees by having you foot the bill out of common societal courtesy (turned into complacency). Danny Meyer, the culinary maestro behind behind NYC's famed Union Square Hospitality Group, took a bold stance on America's war against tipping, by recently announcing that his restaurants will effectively eliminate tipping, raise meal prices, and (in their grand scheme) save the industry from itself.
So what's the impetus behind this essentially unprecedented move, intended to affect all 13 of USHG's NYC restaurants (including The Modern, Gramercy Tavern, and Jazz Standard)? Meyer has publicly called for tipping reform before, and despite his industrious commitment to hospitality, it appears he considers this aspect of the restaurant world skewed, awkward, and unfair:
"...restaurant patrons are expected to have the expertise to motivate and properly remunerate service professionals; servers are expected to please up to 1,000 different employers (for most of us, one boss is enough!); and restaurateurs surrender their use of compensation as an appropriate tool to reward merit and promote excellence."
This quote from Meyer, unearthed by Eater, dates back to a newsletter released by the Union Square Cafe more than 20 years ago. He goes on to decry the American system of customary tipping, and waxed poetic on the European system of all-inclusive menu prices, designed to give servers comparable salaries, without the onus on the customer. Over the last 20 years, the no-tipping movement has gained some steam, but certainly has not developed into the sweeping movement that Meyer pined over two decades ago.
Now that we've nailed down the background, we can get to the brass tacks of Meyer's move: how and when will this affect your favorite restaurants?
As previously stated, the no-tipping mandate will be rolled out over the course of the next year, and apply to all 13 of the eateries managed by the group, with the server's loss of tips countered by increased menu prices -- though exactly how much an increase diners will see is still a mystery.
While the original hike was intended to be somewhere between 30%-35% on menu items (which, to be frank, is probably more than most people tip after a meal), Eater reported that USHG leaders were a little squeamish such a major uptick would cause their "Hospitality Included" plan to fall flat in the minds of consumers. The consensus now is that the number will settle somewhere between 20%-25% (hopefully), which is more in line with a generous tip.
The first restaurant to accept the new practice will be the Modern (located inside the MoMA), and will do so as soon as this November. According to the NY Times, wages are "expected to rise to $15.25 from $11.75," for workers at the bougie eatery.
Will a major player like Meyer switching to the European system of tipping sway the general consensus -- or even make a dent in the hulking, lumbering (and in the opinion of many, outdated) tipping custom that has become commonplace in this country? That remains to be seen.
If you want to do your part to make this happen, dear readers, don't complain when your local eatery jacks its prices to keep that extra two dotted lines off your final check, and make an effort to support businesses that comply. Or, you could simply never tip again.
Just don't blame us if you get a little vengeful saliva in your salad the next time around...
Wil Fulton is a Staff Writer for Thrillist. He used to be a waiter, so he gets it. (Spitting in salads, he means). Follow him @wilfulton
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