The Waitress Shrugged

the editor   |   wednesday, july 20, 2016

Are we at the no tipping point?

There are some restaurant owners out there trying to eliminate tipping in restaurants. Such as the founder/owner of Union Square Hospitality ("USH"), which is a big restaurant group in NYC. USH runs a bunch of relatively higher-end chains and boutique restaurants (if you know restaurants, you probably have heard of them).

Will USH's effort to eliminate tipping in its upper-end restaurants "save the hospitality industry?" Are we at the "no tipping point?"

We're not so sure. We understand the concern regarding disparity between front-of-house pay and back-of-house pay, which some people say motivates the change. But isn't eliminating the tip a blunt way to try to align payscales? We absolutely agree with the sentiment that payscale should be aligned by the way. We're just trying to map the path from where we are to that place of greater alignment.

There are a lot of equities to weigh really - so we don't want to say there is a conclusive "correct" view on tipping - obviously, everyone has a view (just scroll down through the comments on those two links we posted!) and all of them have merit.

We are left wondering, though, whether Meyer's move to eliminate tips, aside from being a clever hiring tactic in the face of expectations that wages must (and will, pursuant to NY law at least) rise, but also, it seems like that really is USH's market - sort of a uniformly highest-in-class service offering. So no wonder Meyer's restaurant for the 1% assumes uniformly great service - and uniform pay - among waiters - they obviously are offering just that and we're sure their customers agree. So no surprise that tips are sort of obsolete as it is at such an establishment - i.e., there is no need for a tip as a means of pricing a service that repeatedly rounds out to being mostly flawless.

But what about the restaurants the rest of us go to? Are there 5 different waiters involved in serving my meal at the diner around the corner? Nope, just one waitress. So does management need the ability to directly control wage allocation between a hostess, a drinks waiter, a backwaiter, a sommelier, and whatever else kind of waiter there is inbetween? Maybe at USH restaurants but not at my diner. There is just one waitress and she does all the work. And whether I enjoy the experience at that restaurant depends exclusively on her.

And the experience, that's another thing. Doesn't assuming uniformity in the service offering sort of hint at what role the service offering plays in the overall dining experience? We sort of have the feeling that this is a major component of the impetus to directly control hospitality pricing by eliminating the tip. Because, as Meyer suggests in the article linked above, "There’s not too many more ways I know to roast a chicken, or sous vide a chicken, or do whatever you’re supposed to do to a chicken." The desire to eliminate tips is connected to the desire to control the service offering and enhance the dining experience - "[t]hink about the opportunity to innovate" Meyer says. Yes, we get that - and we applaud the entrepreneurial spirit that motivates this.

But we're not sure it means that we are at a "no tipping point." It just means Danny has done all he can with chicken and now needs a new way to innovate the restaurant as an experience for paying customers. Like we said, we are down with that.

But at my diner, if the waitress makes a flat minimum wage with no variation according to quality of service, I am left wondering - if my coffee gets cold, will she care? If my eggs are too runny, will she shrug?