Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that rose to fame thanks to its neoclassical take on New York dining, serving up truffled black and white cookies, upscale egg creams, and haute chowders, will soon do away with one of the most deeply ingrained customs of New York dining: tipping. Starting in the new year, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara's three Michelin-starred restaurant will raise prices and eliminate the need for diners to leave a gratuity, a move that will help the duo to chip away at the wage disparity between waiters who can partake of tips, and frequently lower paid kitchen staffers, who cannot.
Lunch and dinner will cost $295, service included, which means that a table for two, after optional wine pairings and tax, will cost over $1,000. It's a price that Eleven Madison can likely command given the demand for seats – the venue is ranked No. 5 on San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants list. But it's also a price that sends the venue even further into the stratosphere of America's most expensive restaurants.
Eleven Madison's switch to a service-included system comes in the wake of Danny Meyer's decision to end tipping at all his New York restaurants by the end of 2016, a policy that Top Chef's Tom Colicchio has already implemented during lunch at Craft. These changeovers are no coincidence; Colicchio co-founded Gramercy Tavern with Meyer, while Humm and Guidara are two of that restaurateur's most famous proteges.
More Meyer alums will likely follow suit, as will others. Restaurants throughout the city are looking to end tipping as a way to attract better talent amid a shortage of cooks, and as a way to cope with the higher cost of doing business as the state hikes its various minimum wages. The rise in the tipped minimum, by $2.50 to $7.50/hour, will be particularly painful, as it threatens to widen the longstanding income gap between the people who serve your food and the people who cook it. But by eliminating gratuities and paying everyone at least the full minimum of $9/hour, restaurants can sidestep that increase and compensate everyone more equitably.
"From a purist perspective, what i believe is right is ultimately moving away from tips," Guidara tells Eater. "That said I don't think we're fully there yet, everywhere." He's right; ending gratuities is widely viewed as a riskier move at a la carte venues, where diners can be scared off by the higher prices. So at The NoMad, Eleven Madison's more casual sister spot in Midtown, tipping will remain. That means Guidara will have to raise server wages by $2.50, but he'll also give a boost to the back of the house. "If we have to do it for the servers, and I think the servers deserve it, then we have to do it for the cooks too," Guidara says. He'll raise the wages of kitchen staffers by $1 per hour, and he'll pass along restaurant's higher costs by raising prices "very marginally," around three to five percent.
The menu price at Eleven Madison is rising more than marginally, and by more than the customary American gratuity of 20 percent. Specifically, the $295 tasting is 31 percent higher than the current offering of $225, or 11 percent higher (roughly $30 more), than what you'd pay now after tax and tip.
Those higher prices reflect a numbers of factors. Kitchen workers will earn an extra $1 per hour, while line cooks and pastry cooks will earn $2 more. And servers will be guaranteed a higher hourly wage that's on par with what they previously earned under a traditional tipping system (Danny Meyer, by contrast, employs a lower hourly rate plus a revenue share system to compensate his staffers at The Modern). Ensuring waiters don't take a financial hit – Guidara says they "definitively" won't – is particularly important to stave off front-of-the-house defections that sometimes accompany the abolition of tipping.
The higher tasting menu price also mean that Eleven Madison won't have to hike up other items by as much. "I just don't feel comfortable raising wine prices by 25 percent," Guidara says. Beverage pairings, accordingly, will only go up by $15, from $155 to $170, while overall wine prices will rise by roughy the same amount, roughy seven to ten percent.
Unlike at Thomas Keller's Per Se, where the service-included policy is accompanied by a line on the guest check for optional additional gratuity, there will be no such line at Eleven Madison. The reasoning? So guests don't get the impression that they have to pay more on top of the already elevated price. "I want people to walk out without tipping and to feel great about doing that," Guidara says. "We want to make sure that last moment of the meal is not one where guests are questioning everything they've been told up until that moment."
The no tipping policy should also give Eleven Madison the freedom to institute a few changes designed to help front-of-the-house staffers live more normal, stable lives akin to that of other professions. Waiters will be compensated the same at lunch as at dinner, a policy designed to prevent shift chasing and ensure the best servers can be found at any meal service. Paychecks won't be impacted slow or busy seasons. And in an effort to encourage waiters to take time off, vacation pay will be the same as the soon-to-be higher hourly rate.
But will Guidara ever pull a Full Meyer and go service-included at The NoMad? It would mean a hefty increase for the restaurant's famed foie-gras and truffle-stuffed chicken, currently priced at $84. "Maybe we're not yet at a point where the guest is willing to pay $115 for the chicken and we can give cooks the $5 to $7 raise they actually deserve. But I think that's a part of the next few years that's going to be good because I do think we're going to start to get there."