You may have heard the big news this morning: One of the top restauranteurs in the world, Danny Meyer, is eliminating tipping at his entire restaurant empire. And one Chicago non-fine-dining restaurant quietly joined the movement by eliminating tipping last week—hot Logan Square German restaurant The Radler.
Unlike Meyer, The Radler has instituted an across-the-board 18 percent service charge rather than raising menu prices to offset labor costs. Servers are now paid a flat hourly rate, varying by experience and knowledge levels, starting at $22 an hour and topping out at around $30.
Co-owner and front-of-the-house man Adam Hebert says that while the waitstaff is making a little less now (servers were averaging 22.7 percent tips before, rather than the 18 percent service charge now), all of his staff have stayed and service is "almost exactly the same."
"(Eliminating tipping) helps our employees have a more consistent income," Hebert says. "It helps us make sure there is a more even distribution of things—kitchen employees make (much less than waitstaff) and servers are walking out with $1000 a week for 25 hours of work.
"There are so many positives I could write a book."
The tipping debate has raged on for years, with much of the restaurant industry firmly on one side of the fence or the other. Many restauranteurs and service staffers worry that without the incentive of possible higher tips, and overall waitstaff income falling precipitously to the level of kitchen staff, that service levels would drop off and less people would be interested in the jobs, thus making positions less desirable.
However, flat—and much smaller—service charges have been included in check prices for years in Europe and other countries overseas. Many American fine dining restaurants, such as Alinea, Next, The Aviary, El Ideas and 42 Grams here in Chicago, already use flat service charges instead of tipping. In Alinea, Next and Aviary's case—the latter two have been tipping-free since they opened—their service charge is in addition to the ticket price.
Alinea and Next co-owner Nick Kokonas, already at the forefront of another movement with his ticketing platform Tock, is adamant that tipping doesn't improve service and that flat rates are often beneficial to service staff.
"(That tipping results in better service) is the biggest fallacy that both diners and the press have with regards to tipping," Kokonas says. "Does a white-collar professional work less hard at work because they do not receive tips? It's about treating restaurant service as a profession." He cites the many restaurants that already utilize tip pools for servers that already "smooth out the variance of the dining public," similar to the effect of hourly rates and service charges. In regards to waitstaff benefiting from the elimination of tips, he cites that servers make money even on slow nights.
You don't have to tell Adam Hebert about these benefits, who says he saw Meyer on Monday at TriBeCa Grill in New York. "I should have chatted with him about (tipping)," he says, but then again, he had already removed tipping at The Radler by that point anyway.