Following in the footsteps of Danny Meyer's plan to end tipping at his thirteen New York restaurants, I Trulli, Gramercy Park's two decade-old Italian spot, has "retired the custom of encouraging diners to add a gratuity to their check," the restaurant announced in an email this morning. Servers will not ask for or expect a tip.
"This is the time to do it because it's been in the public arena, thanks to Danny," owner Nicola Marzovilla told Eater by phone. "I think there's going to be a cascade of people doing this." Unlike Meyer, who is eliminating tipping by raising prices, i Trulli is adding a 20 percent administrative fee to the bottom of each check, which more closely resembles the traditional experience of leaving a gratuity. "The ideal situation would be to raise prices, but I don't know if the consumer is ready to do that," Marzovilla said, adding that uneducated consumers could experience a bit of sticker shock under such service-included polices.
Ending tipping has become increasingly in vogue in New York to help deal with the shortage of cooks and to bridge the income gap between the people who serve your food and the frequently lower paid employees who cook your food. Tips are legally the property of the waitstaff and can't be distributed to back of the house employees, so by eliminating gratuities and adding an administrative fee (or by raising prices), a restaurant gains the freedom to raise the wages of its entire staff, and therefore attract better chefs through more competitive pay.
Marzovilla, however, isn't ending tipping to raise back of the house wages – he says his cooks make anywhere from $500-$900 per week with overtime – but rather to put the restaurant, instead of the customer, in charge of front of the house wages. Under the current tip pool system, young waiters and senior waiters, the latter of whom have been at i Trulli from 8 to 21 years, make about the same pay. Under the no-tipping system system, Marzovilla will be able to give merit-based raises and compensate his front of the house staffers more fairly, based on experience and skills.
And in a move that's unusual even for restaurants without tipping, i Trulli will pay its waiters a yearly salary – as opposed to an hourly one – with benefits. That salary, per Marzovilla, will be higher than the average of what those waiters made for the past half decade. Bartenders, bussers, and other front of the house employees will be on salary as well.
Marzovilla said that ending tipping would allow for more cohesiveness between front of the house and back of the house staffs, eliminating scenarios where cooks don't see the benefits of a busy night while waiters celebrate, and where waiters don't necessarily lose from a slow night while cooks benefit from a higher hourly wage. "Even if you don't pay the back of the house one more dollar," Marzovilla said, "the atmosphere in the restaurant tomorrow night will be much better than the atmosphere last night, because everyone will work together as a team." The owner also said the policy would help him equalize pay between waiters and managers; top waiters can often end up earning much more than their managerial superiors because of gratuities, a reality that creates a disincentive for many to move up the professional ranks in a restaurant.
Historically, no tipping policies in New York have been confined to higher end restaurants that want to pay their cooks more, but i Trulli becomes (at least) the third middle-end restaurant to end tipping in 2015. Amanda Cohen's vegetarian Dirt Candy re-opened with an admin fee in January, and Bruno pizzeria followed suit in the summer. And next year, Meyer will convert over his a la carte Blue Smoke and Marta to no tipping.
Such polices are becoming more attractive to restaurateurs of all stripes not just to help with chef pay, but as a way to mitigate the rising cost of running a restaurant in New York. In January, the state's tipped minimum – the separate wage that waiters, bussers, and bartenders make – is rising from $5.00/hour to $7.50; a massive 50 percent pay hike per hour for each employee. By ending tipping at paying service staff the full 2016 minimum of $9/hour, restaurants can sidestep that increase.
In the long run and with more consumer education, Marzovilla said he eventually expects more restaurants to adopt a Danny Meyer service-included policy rather than an administrative fee, which are legally more complicated to implement, and which require explicit disclosures that the fee is not a tip.