N.Y. Restaurant Group to Drop Tipping ; Parting from Tradition, Menu Prices Will Reflect Hourly Wage for Workers

By Wells, Pete | International New York Times, October 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

N.Y. Restaurant Group to Drop Tipping ; Parting from Tradition, Menu Prices Will Reflect Hourly Wage for Workers


Wells, Pete, International New York Times


Starting with the Modern, at the Museum of Modern Art, acclaimed restaurants like Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern will be affected.

In a sweeping change to how most of its 1,800 employees are paid, the Union Square Hospitality Group will eliminate tipping at Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe and its 11 other restaurants by the end of next year, the company's chief executive, Danny Meyer, said on Wednesday.

The move will affect New York City businesses that serve 40,000 to 50,000 meals a week and range from simple museum cafes to some of the most popular and acclaimed restaurants in the country. The first will be the Modern, inside the Museum of Modern Art, starting next month. The others will gradually follow.

A small number of restaurants around the country have reduced or eliminated tipping in the last several years. Some, like Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, put a surcharge on the bill, allowing the restaurants to set the pay for all their employees. Others, including Bruno Pizza, a new restaurant in the East Village, factor the cost of an hourly wage for servers into their menu prices.

Union Square Hospitality Group will do the latter. Menus will explain that prices include "hospitality," and checks will not provide blank lines for a tip. "There will be one total, as if you were buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers," Mr. Meyer said.

The Modern will be the pilot restaurant, Mr. Meyer said, because its chef, Abram Bissell, has been agitating for higher pay to attract skilled cooks. The average hourly wage for kitchen employees at the restaurant is expected to rise to $15.25 from $11.75. Mr. Meyer said that restaurants such as his needed to stay competitive as the state moved to a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers.

If cooks' wages do not keep pace with the cost of living, he said, "it's not going to be sustainable to attract the culinary talent that the city needs to keep its edge."

Other restaurateurs will be watching closely to see whether Mr. Meyer can change the deeply ingrained culture of tipping and still make a profit.

"Danny has a lot of trust out there with his customer base," the chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio said, "and if they're willing to pay higher prices, it's going to make it easier for everybody else. That's still my biggest concern: whether the dining public is up for it."

Mr. Colicchio said that the success of the car service Uber, whose fee includes service, "is making it possible at least for younger generations to swallow this."

His flagship restaurant in Manhattan, Craft, began serving lunch last month with service included in the price; tips are strongly discouraged. Mr. Colicchio said that he planned to decide soon whether to do the same at dinner and at some of his other restaurants. …

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