In September, Tom Colicchio, who has achieved national celebrity status as head chef of Bravo’s Top Chef, announced he would eliminate tipping at his flagship New York City restaurant, Craft, for lunch. He added that tipping would also be eliminated during dinner service if his grand lunchtime experiment succeeds. Just weeks later, Danny Meyer, who cofounded Gramercy Tavern with Colicchio, announced that he would eliminate tipping at all 13 of his restaurants by year’s end.
Shortly after Colicchio’s announcement, I had the pleasure of presenting the Richard Melman Innovator Award, with Melman at my side, to Michael White and Ahmass Fakahany, who own and operate the terrific multi-concept company Altamarea Group in New York City. Afterwards, I moderated a Q & A with all three and asked their thoughts on Colicchio doing away with tipping (Meyer had not yet announced his no-tipping policy). The trio couldn’t run away from the subject fast enough. Who can blame them? It’s a controversial move that will generate plenty of heated debate. “We’re not doing anything until we see how it goes at Craft,” said White, followed by head nods from Melman and Fakahany.
In both cases, Colicchio and Meyer are doing away with tipping while raising menu prices at least 20 percent. At the bottom of Craft’s lunch menu it simply says, “prices are inclusive of service.”
“We didn’t make the decision lightly,” says Colicchio. “There’s been buy-in from staff, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.”
He points out that the no-tipping policy was not enacted to redistribute earnings more evenly between the front- and back-of-the house staff. The increased menu prices will go directly to servers’ wages. “It’s time for a change. It’s time to pay the servers a salary,” he says.
Meyer, on the other hand, says he’s eliminating tipping and raising menu prices to deal directly with the pay disparity between the front and back of the house. “We’ve never faced a shortage of talented cooks like we have this year,” Meyer told Eater.com “ . . . we can’t have a situation where we are asking someone to pay $40,000 to go to the Culinary Institute of America to then work for $12.50 per hour, when they could work in fast food for $15.”
Here’s the take from someone who doesn’t work in the business, but eats in your restaurants nearly every day: me. If you read this column regularly you know I’m constantly ranting about how crappy service has gotten, and this is based on servers who have an incentive to work harder to earn bigger tips. What’s going to happen when they no longer have to worry about striving for bigger tips because they’ll be getting a higher wage up front? Hopefully, the higher wage will attract better quality people, though some may argue that the best servers will go to tipping places knowing their earning potential is unlimited. What do you think? Please email me at [email protected].