When Danny Meyer revealed his plans to raise wages and end tipping at all of his New York restaurants by the end of next year, one of the biggest questions was: Would anyone else follow suit, or would the Shake Shack founder be left hanging high and dry with his newly elevated menu prices? Well, the short answer is that the hospitality industry has stepped up to bat. Eleven Madison Park has pledged to end tipping, and Huertas has already done so. All of Andrew Tarlow's hip Brooklyn hangouts will change over to gratuity-free dining in 2016, and Gabe Stulman will test out the policy at Fedora, with the rest of his empire possibly switching if all goes according to plan. And now, the chef/owner of Michelin-starred Williamsburg restaurant Meadowsweet has announced he's doing away with gratuities as well.
Starting on January 1, Polo Dobkin will adopt a service-included policy at his a la carte restaurant, eliminating tipping and raising prices from 16 to 20 percent. Dobkin says the move will allow him to "provide a competitive wage for both our front and back of the house employees," as well as offer bonuses and incentives to cooks and waiters in an effort to "ensure parity and equality in our restaurant."
City waiters make about $14.45 per hour on average, while cooks, who cannot partake of gratuities, make about $13.29, according to the New York Department of Labor. And among more experienced members of the hospitality industry, that wage gap increases to over $2.27 per hour. Those discrepancies will widen further when New York raises its tipped minimum, the lower wage that waiters earn, to $7.50 per hour in 2016. So by eliminating gratuities and paying everyone more fairly, restaurants can help chip away at these salary differences (and sidestep the state wage hike).
Waiters and bartenders at Meadowsweet do better than average. In January, they'll earn $27 per hour, a fixed hourly rate designed to keep them earning as much as they did under tipping. "A lot of our servers are very excited," Dobkin says, adding that the move should help breed front of the house stability. Cooks will continue earning $13 per hour, though their net pay should end up higher than that because of overtime, something that waiters typically don't qualify for because they don't normally work as long as kitchen staffers.
Cooks, like waiters, will also benefit from profit sharing on "busy evenings and holidays." Dobkin calls the changes at his restaurant "the first step in a process that will allow us to raise the income of every back of the house employee."
Other restaurants that eliminate tipping typically raise prices 21 to 28 percent to ensure that waiters don't take a hit, and to improve wages throughout the venue. Meadowsweet's more reserved 16 to 20 percent range is a bit more gentle because, Dobkin says, "ultimately we don't want our customers to feel the change."
Prices at Meadowsweet, with tipping, currently range from $10 to $17 for starters, and $28 to $34 for mains. Desserts are $10, while a short tasting is $75.