- Liz Clayman
My first experience at a no-tipping restaurant came as a surprise.
When the check arrived after a friend and I finished drinks and appetizers at Maialino, an Italian restaurant located in the Gramercy Park Hotel, there was only room for a signature. No line for tipping.
In our surprise at the bill, we asked our server a question he’s probably answered many times before: How does the no-tipping policy work out for you? He flashed a smile and told us he is very well compensated.
So, he was happy. And we were happy.
But a new lawsuit begs to differ, as Business Insider’s Linette Lopez reported.
The complaint, filed by a diner who believes he was overcharged at a no-tipping restaurant, alleges (among other things) that no-tipping restaurants are a conspiracy designed to shortchange diners and restaurant staff alike.
Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group which owns many high-end restaurants, including Maialino, is the alleged ringleader of the so-called conspiracy. Meyer eliminated tipping from his restaurants in 2015.
The complaint also accuses Meyer of orchestrating a meeting with Bay Area chefs in 2014, convincing them to join “his movement to steal tips from their employees and enrich themselves while overcharging diners in the process,” Lopez reported.
The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, paints a very different picture from the experience my friend and I had. We ended the night feeling as though we had saved 20%, since we expected to leave a tip for the servers. The menu prices didn’t strike us as higher than normal. In fact, we arrived during happy hour, so the $9 glass of prosecco I ordered was actually less than I would typically pay, even at a less-fancy restaurant or bar.
Very few restaurants have adopted a no-tipping policy, but the issue has been debated among NYC restaurateurs. Meyer is a vocal opponent of tipping, calling tipping a massive hoax that was born out of slavery as a way to avoid paying workers. In no-tipping restaurants, employees receive higher wages, and menu prices tick up slightly to cover the added payroll expense.
For many Americans, tipping is standard and familiar when dining out, and doing away with it isn’t easy. After initiating a no-tipping policy, some restaurants have since reinstated the practice to keep diners happy, adjusting menu prices back down as well.
At the end of every shift, those of us who weren’t servers were expected to write our names and the hours we worked on a sheet of paper taped to the door of the manager’s office. The list was used to calculate our share of the “tip out” – a percentage of the tips earned by the servers that night. If you forgot to write your name on the list, you were out of luck. The couple of dollars per hour of base pay was all you would earn for that shift.
I’m not sure how it works at every restaurant, but after that experience, the concept of tipping at restaurants has never seemed to me like the best – or most fair – way to pay people.
It looks like the concept – and those on both sides of the debate – may get their day in court to decide once and for all who is right.