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Bruno Pizza Drops Admin Fee; Goes Service-Included

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Margherita pies now cost $18

Daniel Krieger

Bruno, arguably the city's most divisive pizzeria (Pete Wells hated it, this critic loved it), has switched around its no tipping policy. Gone is the administrative fee, a charge that New York's Department of Consumer Affairs frowns upon, and in its place is a Danny Meyer-style service-included system.

Prices have risen, but not all by the same amount. "Decisions and exceptions were made based on whether a menu item would be perceived as too expensive or not," owner Demian Repucci tells Eater.  The restaurateur adds: "In reality this is kind of ridiculous and if I am going to hope to keep the doors open all menu prices should have been raised by 20 percent without question."

The margherita pizza is now $18, which is as much as diners would've paid previously with the admin fee. This keeps Bruno at about even with other ambitious pizzerias like Roberta's and Don Antonio, where a standard pie typically runs $15. But the change also places the East Village establishment at a disadvantage because there is less of a no tipping precedent among pizzerias as there is among fine dining restaurants. Prices, in other words, will appear higher. For example: adding on service puts Bruno's pepperoni pie at $23, well above Motorino's $16 variant, pre-tip.

For more on how are diners reacting to the higher prices, especially during carry-out, and precisely why Bruno moved away from the admin fee, here's an excerpt from this reporter's conversation with Repucci:

Do you believe the higher prices have affected take-away, where diners often pay less because they tip less than the full 20 percent? Tough to say without exit polls. I know that when I had the administration fee there were a couple of people that ordered carry-out but then took issue with the administration fee, misunderstanding it as a service fee that they shouldn't have to pay if they weren't engaging a server. I would explain that it wasn't a service fee but just went to paying the costs of running the restaurant. Though this explanation in that situation never seemed to go over well. Now that prices are higher people order carry-out and delivery and don't seem to have any problem.

Why did you make the jump away from the admin fee? You told me, during my review process, that you believed most restaurants would eventually switch over to service-included, but expressed concerns about doing that at a pizzeria given the potential for sticker shock. I had concerns about being a *new* restaurant and opening with service-included higher prices...Neapolitan pizza is one of the menu categories where product, quality and price seem to be acutely preconceived by the public. So, yes, I didn't want to launch with service-included pricing as a new, unknown restaurant and immediately be misperceived as "too expensive" without the understanding that it would effectively be the same total price as a similar restaurant that expected tipping.

I always thought of the admin fee as a temporary solution, something that I would use until the public conversation about no-tipping broadened. And this happened three months after I launched no tipping at Bruno when Danny Meyer announced that his restaurants would start to change to a no-tipping situation. Danny showing his approval of no-tipping as the way forward for his restaurants did much to open the public's eyes to the idea of no tips at restaurants being acceptable and viable as a business model.

People started to move beyond the "What's this 'administration fee' thing all about?" questions to "Oh great! No tipping! But why an administration fee? Why not just raise your prices?" The servers started asking me to raise the prices just so they wouldn't have to answer tipping questions. And my labor attorney had always wanted me to move from the admin fee to raised prices as soon as possible so as to avoid any question that might arise from someone misunderstanding the admin-fee as a service charge.