Union Square Hospitality Group will end its famous no-tipping policy.

By Maria Yagoda
July 21, 2020
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As the restaurants in Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group reopen for outdoor dining, they will no longer be tip-free establishments. On Monday, Meyer announced in a LinkedIn post that he would be ending the no-tipping policy he famously pioneered at his restaurants in 2015.

In the post, titled "A Return to Tipping, But Let Them Be Shared," Meyer cited the uncertain future of restaurants—and the slashing of revenues during the pandemic—as the reason why he is reinstating tips at USHG establishments, beginning this Thursday at Union Square Café and spreading to the rest in the coming weeks.

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"We’ve come to believe that it’s the inability to share tips that is the problem, not the tips themselves," said Meyer. "Our ultimate goal is for your tips to be shared among our entire team, so both kitchen and dining room teams can benefit when a guest has a great experience."

The restaurateur, who first implemented the policy to make sure all employees (front and back of house) received fair and equitable wages, said that the move to reintroduce tipping will be coupled with advocacy "for policy changes that will introduce much-needed equity into the compensation system."

"And so while at present your tip can only go to our dining room team," he continued, "our restaurants will be providing a share of revenue for everyone in the kitchen—from receiver to pot washer to lead cook—and will be increasing total compensation by an average of 25% across our full-service restaurants."

Despite Meyer's reversal on the issue, backlash against tipping continues to grow, with detractors citing the racist, sexist, and exploitive nature of the practice. On Monday, One Fair Wage released a report that found that "the subminimum wage results in a nearly $8 per hour differential in wages (including tips) between Black women tipped workers and white men tipped workers in New York state." (Last year, the state eliminated the subminimum wage, which allows employers to pay tipped employees a lower hourly wage, for all industries except restaurants.)

As Saru Jayaraman wrote for Food & Wine in 2017, employees who are reliant on tips to make a living wage must endure harassment to make ends meet—and this is particularly true for women.

"As women earning just a few dollars an hour from their employers, they are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior—from lewd comments and groping to assault—in order to feed their families in tips," she wrote. "And this culture of objectification creates a hostile environment that leaves workers vulnerable to further abuse from coworkers and management."

At the end of his post, Meyer says that the ideal payment model may look like the one set up by California chef and restaurateur Jesse Cool, where there is "One Fair Wage" (that is, a full minimum wage that is not reduced if employees receive tips) and the entire staff can share tips.

"While we wait to reopen our dining rooms, we remain as committed as ever to seeing our employees fairly compensated and will continue to advocate for laws and business models that allow that to happen," Meyer wrote.