The movement to end tipping and raise hospitality industry wages has scored a victory after a string of setbacks. Andrew Tarlow, the man who helped establish the hyper-artisanal and micro-seasonal ethos pervading contemporary Brooklyn, is moving ahead with his plan to eliminate gratuities at all of his restaurants following what a company spokesperson describes as a "successful" trial at Roman's in Fort Greene. Starting today, Tarlow will no longer accept tips at Reynard and at the Ides, both located in the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg.
Morning coffee service, available for guests in their rooms, will not require tipping either.
The announcement comes on the heels of gratuity-free failures elsewhere in the restaurant industry: Gabe Stulman's Fedora, a small West Village restaurant, ended its no tipping experiment last week, while Joe's Crab Shack, a nationwide chain, rolled back its number of service-included locations from eighteen to four. The reasons were largely guest-related. Stulman said customers weren't adjusting well to the higher prices, and Joe's Crab, having witnessed a drop in store traffic, said customers didn't trust the restaurants to adequately compensate the wait staff.
But the number of tip-free success stories appear to be greater than the failures in New York. Danny Meyer is still on track to eliminate gratuities at all thirteen of his Manhattan restaurants this year; he's converted over three venues so far – The Modern, Maialino, and North End Grill. And at Roman's, a neighborhood Italian spot in Fort Greene, Tarlow said "guests love" not tipping.
At Reynard prices will rise by about twenty percent, through not necessarily across the board. "We learned at Roman's that you can’t just raise wine prices 20 percent," Tarlow said. He'll have to be particularly careful with prices at breakfast, a mealtime during which even the most ambitious and creative chefs tend to offer relatively affordable, commoditized fare to patrons looking to get in, get fed, and get out. Translation: the potential for sticker shock is greater in the morning. Accordingly, drip coffee or espresso will cost just $4, while a croissant will cost $5.50 – a touch high by pastry standards. A ham, egg, and gruyere sandwich will run $19 – also not cheap.
During lunch, avocado toast (with trout roe) runs a steep $21. During dinner, starters range from $8 (for olives) to $20 (for oysters); mains cost $28-$44, with the grilled chicken at $21. And family-size rib steaks run $99-$132 depending on the weight, which is quite frankly less than what a lot of restaurants charge before service.
Cooks will see an immediate salary increase, with wages gradually rising to $15 or higher, while Reynard's servers will earn a base wage of $15-$17 (the same as at Roman's) plus revenue share. "We expect this to be in line with what they have made in the tipped model," the group said in a statement, with Tarlow adding that he hasn't had any staffers leave during the transition.
Cocktail waiters at the Ides, who make a "little bit" more than servers at Reynard, should see their pay stay even, and possibly rise, says Tarlow, arguing that those staffers currently get stiffed or under-tipped more than anyone else at The Wythe.
Restaurants often hesitate to eliminate the traditional compensation system, wherein servers make the tipped minimum plus gratuities, for fear of seeing their waitstaffs earn less and defect to other restaurants. Trou Norman and Bar Agricole in San Francisco brought back tipping last year after staff retention issues.
Roman's, according to Tarlow, lost two servers prior to the switch to no tipping in January, with one of them moving to Nashville shortly afterward. "It has been, I think, challenging for the front of house to change the way we do things and the way in which they are compensated," company spokesperson Leah Campbell told Grub Street earlier this year in a story that suggested waiters were taking a pay cut.
"Right now we're getting very close to comparable with last year's numbers – like super close," Tarlow said of waiter pay at Roman's, adding that such a rate, in the long term, could even "match or beat" pre-tipping levels. The restaurateur however notes that first quarter sales at Roman's are about the same as last year, which technically translates to a drop in revenue since a chunk of that now needs to pay the higher hourly rates of the wait staff.
"I as an owner will earn less money this year. We’re not doing this to be more profitable," Tarlow says. "But I do believe in the long run as a business decision, this will be more successful for everyone in the company. That includes the cooks, the sanitation team, the ownership, and the front of the house staff."
He goes on: "In some ways I'm very optimistic and I believe the system works. Do I need to figure out some financing and money issues, like how we sell wine and how pricing works? Of course we do. But that's like anything. The same happened when we brought organic vegetables from New York State farmers. These are all the same kind of hurdles we've had to overcome."