Danny Meyer and the Case Against Tipping
Last month two dozen prominent New York City restaurateurs, led by Danny Meyer, joined together. They petitioned New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, to bring the city’s current tip credit to an end. Though the petition is against New York’s tip credit, the same method is applied across the country. Many speculate that if it goes through in the Big Apple, the rest of the country won’t be far behind.
What is the Tip Credit?
In its current state, the national tip credit refers to restaurants’ ability to pay servers less than minimum wage. Server’s wages sometimes dipping as low as $2.90 per hour. This is allowed for serves because they are able to make extra money in tips. Our petitioners insist that we should raise the sub-minimum wage for servers. This will not only expect better wages but a more professionalized work environment. It also has the potential to eliminate the sexual harassment inherent in a position dependent on the goodwill of the customer.
There is even talk of pooling tips between both the front and back-of-house, a practice that is currently illegal. This should help diminish the ever widening gap between front and back-of-house wages. The hope is to alleviate the difficulty restaurateurs have in hiring back-of-house employees who work for a fixed hourly wage. These workers consistently make less than their front-of-house counterparts.
Danny Meyer , owner of Union Square Hospitality Group, is the driving force behind some of New York’s most important restaurants. He is, unsurprisingly, at the forefront of the petition. Meyer has lead the charge against tipping for the past several years. He’s been very vocal in condemning the practice and urging others to follow suit. In 2015 he took the initiative to dispose of tipping in his restaurants across the board. While some individual high-end restaurants have eliminated tipping, Meyer decided to completely terminate it in both his high-end and fast-casual restaurants. He has also raised the prices in his restaurants, allowing him to pay his servers a fair wage. It was a bold move. Onlookers and employees alike gave mixed reviews. However Meyer has continued on in the face of adversity and urges others to join him.
What’s so Bad About Tipping?
So why all the fuss over tipping? Tipping is a tactic that has been employed for decades. By most accounts, it seems to have done well for the restaurant industry. Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that the better the service the better the tip. This keeps waiters motivated, diners happy, and money flowing into the restaurant. However it would seem that this isn’t necessarily true. A recent study conducted by Cornell University asserts that tipping is more habit than anything else. The percentage of the bill given to the server does not rise with good service or fall with bad. Instead, it remains nothing more than a mechanical afterthought.
Others argue against it based on moral and civil grounds citing a less than wholesome history. Tipping is an archaic practice, stemming from post Civil War era slavery tactics that were employed in an effort to skirt around abolitionist laws, and keep African Americans in inferior positions.
Making the Leap
Some restaurants have already made the switch. The famed Chez Panisse in Berkley charges a flat 17% fee. New York City’s prominent Sushi Yasuda recently banned tips as well. There are more following in their wake. The problem is that small restaurateurs are afraid to make this leap. They fear that customers would balk at increased menu prices, not recognizing that the elimination of tipping is a benefit to all involved. Less well established restaurants have a lot more to lose, and are thus afraid to take big risks with their customers.
Though widespread change will not be overnight, the shift has begun. As more and more restaurants make the change, and restaurateurs like Danny Meyers, Alice Waters , and Grant Achatz help spread awareness, we can be sure that both understanding and acceptance will follow.
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