Yet another high profile restaurant has joined the growing ranks of American culinary establishments that have pretty much eliminated voluntary tipping.
When Dirt Candy re-opens on Manhattan's Lower East Side in January, patrons won't need to leave gratuities. Instead, an administrative fee of around 20 percent will be added to each check, chef Amanda Cohen tells Eater, a move that will provide for more stable wages by letting the restaurant, not the guest, play the chief role in front-of-the-house compensation. There will be no line on the check to leave a tip.*
The admin fee will also let Cohen provide higher salaries for certain jobs. Unlike tips, which are required to be disbursed to waiters, runners, and bussers, Dirt Candy's surcharge will help pay line cooks, dishwashers and other employees that don't traditionally make as much as waiters. "I'm just redistributing so that there's not a huge discrepancy between the front of the house and back of the house," Cohen says. "I can't pay my cooks $10 [an hour] any more and expect them to live in New York."
Cohen says she hopes waiters will make $25-$30/hr, while cooks will be paid at least $18-$19/hr, which the chef admits might be a bit less than what waiters made at the old Dirt Candy. Currently, the minimum wage in New York is $8/hr.
"If it starts to work, my gut feeling is that others will start doing it. I think we have the possibility of changing the dining scene," Cohen says. And indeed, Dirt Candy is part of a very small group of casual restaurants that have pledged to reduce or end tipping. High-end spots like Brooklyn Fare and Alinea have long included automatic service charges, while even more expensive venues like Thomas Keller's The French Laundry and Per Se have espoused European-style service-included policies, where all prices are higher so as to be reflective of tip.
But earlier this fall, a group of five well-known San Francisco Bay Area restaurants pledged to end tipping in favor of service-charges. And yesterday, Eater SF reported that Daniel Patterson, the chef behind the two-Michelin starred Coi, would go service-included at his not-yet-open Aster, so as not to burden the diner with excess charges surcharges at the end of the meal.
Why isn't Dirt Candy employing that policy? Two words: Sticker shock."Without enough restaurants doing service-included, I worry that I would lose people walking by who think we're too expensive," Cohen says. "What are we going to do? Run out each time and say, 'Wait, here's our manifesto. Service is included!'"
Full disclosure: Prices will be higher at the new Dirt Candy, on account of the bigger space and the larger roster; there will be around 40 employees, up from about seven at the original location. "One of the reasons we're building this pretty new dining room is so that we can charge a little bit more. I'll be the first person to admit that the old Dirt Candy was a hole in the wall. If you weren't on a chair, you were sitting on your neighbor's lap on a banquette. It was hard to charge enough money for what we were serving. And I think now we have a dining room that equals the food we're going to make."
Cohen says she'll have some entrees that are closer to $27-$30. Entrees at the old Dirt Candy ranged from $19 for a poached egg with grits to $21 for smoked broccoli dogs. Appetizers, previously $6-$13, might go up by a buck or two, while dessert prices, at $10-$12, might stay the same, Cohen says.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated there would be a line on the check to leave an optional gratuity. There will be no such line.