The anti-gratuity revolution continues. Andrew Tarlow, whose establishments like Diner nd Marlow & Sons were largely responsible for creating the hyper-local and artisanal everything ethos that defines contemporary Brooklyn dining, will follow in the footsteps of Danny Meyer by eliminating tipping and adopting the European-style service-included model at all of his restaurants by the end of 2016. The changeover will help bridge the longstanding gap between waiters, who make more because they can collect tips, and cooks, who often earn less because they cannot.
"We've been talking about it for quite a few years internally," Tarlow said during a phone interview on Monday. "Having Danny out in front of it has been a huge impetus for us to take the plunge." Going tip-less is widely considered a bigger risk at casual venues because value-conscious diners might be scared off by the higher a la carte prices. Tarlow's venues do not serve tasting menus and mains rarely cost more than $35.
Eleven Madison Park and Huertas have both announced plans to end tipping in recent weeks, but Tarlow is the first restaurateur since Meyer to pledge a no tipping policy at all of his establishments. New York restaurants have increasingly looked to eliminating gratuities as a way to cope with the rising cost of labor in New York. The tipped minimum for servers and bartenders goes up by $2.50 to $7.00 per hour in January. By switching those employees to a higher hourly rate and raising prices, restaurants can sidestep that increase and use the funds that would have otherwise counted as tips to raise the wages of cooks and other back-of-the-house employees.
Roman's, Tarlow's Italian restaurant in Fort Greene, will be the first to switch over, with the no-tipping policy beginning on January 18. "It's the smallest of my restaurants so it seems to be the best test case," Tarlow says. Prices will rise by about 20 percent and diners won't see any supplemental charges aside from sales tax. There will not be a gratuity line on the guest check. Tarlow even designed a "gratuity free" establishment icon that he said other restaurants are welcome to use if they make the jump to tip free dining as well.
The minimum rate of pay for Tarlow's cooks and other back-of-the-house employees will rise to $15 per hour over the next few years, an important number as that's the minimum wage that fast food workers in the city will earn by 2018. The average pay for restaurant cooks in the city is currently $13.29 per hour, or about $28,000 per year.
Front-of-the-house employees, including waiters, will earn $15 per hour, but they'll also benefit from a weekly revenue share program that should allow them to earn as much as they did under a tipping system. Sanitation workers like janitors will see an immediately $2 raise in their hourly pay.
Tarlow says he's a bit worried about "sticker shock," but mentioned that most restaurants will be raising their prices anyway when the minimum wage increases in 2016. He also suggests that his tip-free restaurants might even be busier going forward. "Diners want to spend money where the people who work there are being taken care of. They want to know their kitchen employees are being well paid."