Danny Meyer's plan to eliminate gratuities at all of his New York restaurants continues. Maialino, the always-packed Roman trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel, will increase wages, hike prices, and eliminate tipping on February 25, making it the second of thirteen Union Square Hospitality Group establishments to switch. The rest are scheduled to follow suit by the end of 2016.
The Modern, Meyer's most expensive and highly-trafficked restaurant, was the first to go gratuity-free, adopting a so-called Hospitality Included model in both the set menu dining room and the small plates bar room in November. But while no tipping policies have a solid track record at high-end venues, they're still quite rare at middle-of-the-road a la carte institutions, where some fear that the elevated prices could scare off uninformed guests. This is all the more true at breakfast, which will see its no-tipping debut at Maialino.
Overall prices are expected to rise anywhere from 22-28 percent, says Sabato Sagaria, chief restaurant officer at USHG, though that translates into a much more modest hike when you take into account that you don't have to tip anymore. So, a $20 plate of carbonara, currently $24 after tip, would likely end up running anywhere from $24.40 to $25.60 under Hospitality Included – USHG reps say they're still hammering out the menu details.
Sagaria says price increases would "probably" be on the lower end at breakfast, typically the cheapest and quickest meal of the day for most guests. Breakfast is also usually the most interchangeable and commoditized meal, meaning even the most distinct venues tend to offer very similar items in the morning hours. Translation: A restaurant will have to do a lot to prove that its $10 grapefruit is better than an identical $7 version elsewhere.
On the business side of the equation, one of the advantages of going gratuity-free at a three-meal-a-day restaurant, per Sagaria, is having certain service staffers swing from one shift to another (i.e. working part breakfast and lunch), without having to change tip pools. As a result, waiters can benefit from a higher hourly rate during slower shifts, and managers can have greater flexibility in more efficiently staffing the restaurant based on specific times, rather than specific meals.
Restaurants throughout the city have increasingly turned to eliminating tipping as a way to better manage operating costs as the state's various minimum wages rose in the new year. It's also way to cope with potential future labor pressures as Governor Andrew Cuomo pushes forward with a plan to raise the minimum to $15 for all city workers by 2018.
Like at The Modern, cooks at Maialino will see their wages rise to anywhere from $14 to $18 per hour, while back of the house support staff like dishwashers and porters will start at $11. The minimum wage in New York is currently $9 per hour, while the New York City fast food wage is $10.50. The living wage in the city is $14.30.
The no tipping policy is already going strong at The Modern, according to Dino Lavorini, USHG's director of operations at the Museum of Modern Art. He "hasn't seen guest attrition" with the higher prices, and of the eight front-of-the-house staffers who have departed since the changeover last fall, none have left because of Hospitality Included. And while some naysayers argue that guest feedback can be more difficult without tipping, Lavorini has data suggesting the contrary; he says that diners have returned 952 comment cards in the guest check holders since November, providing more granular insights into the customer experience than ever before. For example: diners have left an average starred rating of 4.89 out of 5.0 on the cards, with 655 cards awarding a perfect rating.