Guests no longer need to leave gratuities at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, named America’s best restaurant by Eater’s own Bill Addison. It follows the restaurant’s settlement for a $2 million wage suit over, among other things, allegations that the restaurant did not make the proper disclosures for service charges during private events.
The restaurant’s move to eliminate tipping has become a somewhat expected development as restaurants in New York and elsewhere turn to no-tipping policies as a way to cope with rising labor costs, but what’s interesting is that Stone Barns has managed to pull this off without significantly raising prices.
Dinner at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, about an hour train ride from the city, is still expensive: A multi-hour tasting costs $258, up from $238 earlier this year. The biggest change, albeit minor, is that guests will notice a 20 percent administrative fee added to the subtotal. The policy ensures “our entire team is compensated more equitably,” according to the Stone Barns websites.
There will be no line on credit card receipts for optional additional gratuities.
David Barber, who co-owns Stone Barns with his brother Dan, tells Eater that the policy has been going “really well,” since it was implemented in early May. He adds that while he’s “certainly looking” at the prospects for going no-tipping at the West Village location of Blue Hill — which sells more abbreviated tastings — there are no immediate plans to do so.
Eliminating tipping is generally seen as a way to help bridge the pay gap between waiters and other front-of-the-house staffers — who often earn more because they can collect tips — and cooks and other back-of-the-house employees, who often earn less because they cannot. David tells Eater that the new policy will let Stone Barns “recruit better talent and better protect existing talent,” while stressing that waiters “absolutely” did not take a pay cut, an oft-cited reason for the failure of no tipping policies.
Admin fees are not uncommon around at some of the country’s best restaurants like Benu, Alinea, or Saison. But in New York City, those surcharges are prohibited by the local Department of Consumer Affairs. Restaurants that want to eliminate tipping must do so by raising prices. This European-style, service-included model, where prices are reflective of service, has been successfully espoused by numerous high-end establishments around town, including Per Se, Brooklyn Fare, Eleven Madison Park, Masa, Aska, Gramercy Tavern, and The Modern.
This reporter and critic has argued that service included policies are fairest way to eliminate tipping because they don’t hide the true cost of dining behind an artificially low price, but industry groups like the New York Hospitality Alliance, which has been pushing for the city to allow surcharges, assert that admin fees can help restaurants that nix gratuities to stay more competitive without fear of scaring off diners with higher prices.
The one downside to admin fees, however, is that New York State puts a large burden on restaurants to convince consumers, via disclosures on websites and receipts, that such fees are not in fact traditional gratuities, which are the legal property of the wait staff. Barber says Stone Barns is in compliance with those regulations. Those who run afoul of these technicalities risk getting sued by an active crew of local plaintiffs’ attorneys.