In recent memory, we’ve heard plenty of debate over whether the time has come for restaurants to do away with tipping, but outside of a handful of success stories, the vast majority of US eateries have stuck with the status quo. But a recent announcement from the Union Square Hospitality Group could represent a wave of change in the way Americans see leaving cash for waiters. This week, Danny Meyer, the same guy who shook up the fast food scene with Shake Shack, announced that his company was going after our attachment to tipping by eliminating gratuity from all 13 of his NYC dining establishments.
The move won’t happen overnight. Actually quite the opposite; USHP plans to take a year to implement the new policy, starting next month with his restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art, The Modern. As can be expected, the change will also affect pricing: possibly increasing menu costs by as much as 30 to 35 percent. As a result, patrons will no longer see a tip line and will be discouraged from leaving cash on tables or at the bar. But since those percentages even outpace the 20-ish percent most people would normal tip at a restaurant, it stands to reason that this policy change is about more than just removing the headache of tipping, but overhauling the standard wage system at restaurants overall.
Meyer specifically spoke to that point in a statement released earlier today. “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,” he said, later continuing, “We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally. And by eliminating tipping, our employees who want to grow financially and professionally will be able to earn those opportunities based on the merit of their work.” The change, regardless of its ultimate effectiveness, figures to be a big one for USHG’s 1,800 workers.
In a long piece with Eater, Meyer discussed his reasoning behind this change in even broader terms. “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,” he explained. “But fundamentally, the cost of going out to a fine dining restaurant is false. I feel that the prices on menus, for a restaurant that’s really trying to offer good value, don’t accurately express the true picture of what it costs for the people to make that happen.” He feels this is an area where he can actually continue to innovate, and as he has in the past, he’s giving it a go.