Danny Meyer rocked the hospitality industry in October when he announced plans to eliminate tipping at all 13 of his New York restaurants. Then Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, both former Meyer lieutenants, said they'd stop accepting gratuities at their flagship Eleven Madison Park, one of the city's best and most expensive tasting menu venues. And now the Meyer alums behind Huertas, an acclaimed Basque spot in Manhattan's East Village, will end tipping as well.
"We believe that every member of our staff deserves to benefit from the success of the restaurant, something that is impossible within the confines of the tipped system," the Huertas team says in a statement.
Nate Adler, late of Blue Smoke, and chef Jonah Miller, who worked at Gramercy Tavern, will switch over to gratuity free dining at Huertas this Monday and adopt Meyer's Hospitality Included system. That means prices will rise and the consumer won't see any supplemental charges besides tax. The guest check won't have a gratuity line.
New York restaurants have increasingly looked to ending tipping as a way to mitigate rising labor costs – the state's minimum wage for service staffers goes up by $2.50 at the year's end – as well as a way bridge the income disparity between servers, who can collect gratuities, and kitchen staffers, who often make less because they cannot. "The front of the house is still going to make more," Adler tells Eater. But Miller adds that Huertas is "narrowing the gap." The chef explains: "The gap still exists and it's impossible to fix that off the bat. But we're going in the right direction."
Going service-included is rare for casual restaurants, which typically eliminate tipping by levying an administrative fee of 20 percent, essentially functioning as a mandatory gratuity. This lets the venue keep its prices stable, and doesn't risk scaring away value-conscious guests. The downside, however, is that the New York Department of Consumer Affairs frowns on that practice. So Huertas is taking a route that's safer to implement legally, but riskier from a consumer standpoint since prices appear much higher. Specifically, the restaurant's food prices will go up 25 to 27 percent. But because diners don't have to tip anymore, and because drinks prices won't rise as steeply, the average check shouldn't go up by more than a few dollars.
The $12 to $14 seafood tins that draw so many diners to Huertas – mackerel in olive oil, scallops in tomato sauce, and mussels en escabeche – will now cost $15 to $16, with a new squid tin running $20 (even after the service-included increase, that's still generally less than what preserved fishes are priced at Maiden Lane in Alphabet City). The "pinxto me" collection of six Basque bites will rise by $5 to $20, and the octopus with potatoes and pimenton will also go up by $5 to $21. The "nuestras manos" service, currently an off-menu option allowing the kitchen to cook a family-style meal for your table at $50 per person, will go up to $65.
Those higher prices will help cook pay go up and waiter pay remain as is, more or less. But precisely how this will happens highlights a very big difference between the Meyer system and the Huertas system. At Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, waiters earn $9 per hour plus revenue share, while cooks earn a higher hourly rate, starting at $14 per hour. At Huertas, by contrast, cooks will participate in the revenue share program, earning a base pay of $12 per hour, more or less what they make now, plus an extra $1 to $2 per hour, depending on how much business the restaurant does.
Or put more simply: The Huertas system will allow cooks, along with waiters, to share in the success of a busy night, a fact they'll see reflected on their paychecks every week.
What will Huertas do to keep traffic steady as the prices increase? The owners will ramp up education – there's an FAQ about the policy on the restaurant's website – and Huertas will also, in the words of the owners, focus on "generosity." So the $20 "pinxto me" service will come with a small beverage. And guests who opt for the $65 tasting will receive with dessert a glass of vermouth or pacharán, an amaro-like Basque digestif.
Adler said he sought advice from Union Square Hospitality Group on the changeover, and in turn, he said he'd be willing to help other small restaurants adopt a service-included system and give them "the confidence to make this change a reality." Adler goes on: "Can we start something bigger than Huertas? Can we help other restaurants get to this point? If we're a leader in this movement, you've got to feel pretty good about where you're going....I'm super passionate about this. If we can get this passion to flow through the ranks, through our staff, through out industry, then we're going to be in really good shape."
Some other details about the Huertas Hospitality Included program:
- Beverage prices will rise more modestly than food prices, so as not to hurt what Adler describes as the restaurant's "significant" bar business, wherein people just stop by for a drink (and where patrons might not be as familiar with the no-tipping policy). Accordingly, cocktails will go up by $1 to $15; wines by the glass will go up by $2 on average; bottle prices will go up by $6 to $7.
- Porters and prep cooks will receive $1 raises to $11/hour.
- Huertas will pay more experienced waiters at a higher rate, something that's difficult to do under a tipping system. Those merit-based increased will also help bridge the gap a bit between certain waiters and bartenders; the latter position currently makes the most from the tip pool as it exists now.
- Front of the house managers who help serve tables will likely be able to participate in revenue share come January.
- Revenue share will be determined on a weekly basis, as opposed to a nightly basis, a policy that helps cut down on waiters chasing the busiest shifts.