In October of 2015, New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group announced that it would be eliminating tipping from all 13 of its restaurants, among them Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, and The Modern at MoMA.
As Restaurateur Danny Meyer stated in a letter, “Starting at The Modern in late November, you will no longer find a tip line on your check, and there will be no need to leave additional cash at the table, the coat check, or the bar.” The group plans to roll out their new policy, Hospitality Included, at its remaining restaurants over the course of 2016.
Though it’s a radical departure from the American cultural norm, Meyer is convinced that a tip-free environment is the way of the future. In a statement from a Union Square Cafe newsletter as old as 1994—as reported in New York Eater—Meyer summarizes his critique of tipping as follows: “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.”
From the customer’s standpoint, no tipping affords a simpler experience around menu prices and bills: what you see is what you get. Released from the need to evaluate good service throughout the course of the meal—the pressure to tip sufficiently, the guilt of holding back—customers can just sit back and enjoy. (How often do we actually modify the amount we tip anyway?
Another, more structural advantage of eliminating the practice of tipping is more equitable pay for those back of house. Meyer again: “There are countless laws and regulations that determine which positions in a restaurant may, and may not share in gratuities. We believe hospitality is a team sport, and that it takes an entire team to provide you with the experiences you have come to expect from us.” As the state’s tipped minimum goes up by 50% in January, to $7.50, the pay disparity between waiters and cooks is liable to grow even wider. In the war for culinary talent, Meyer’s reform comes at a decisive, and welcome, moment
Though servers may be less excited about their busy weekend shifts, their pay will certainly be steadier, and their treatment less subject to the vicissitudes of age, race, and gender.
Still, the change has us wondering whether America’s reputation for strong service will remain.