Nearly two years since Andrew Tarlow said he'd end tipping at all six of his Brooklyn establishments, the influential Brooklyn restaurateur is on the verge of fulfilling that promise. Starting on Monday, Marlow & Sons and Diner — two of his most popular Williamsburg restaurants — will eliminate the tip line on all guest checks.
Menu prices will increase by an average of 20 percent at Diner and Marlow: Marlow’s famous brick chicken will increase by $6 to $36, though the increases on other items will be less. At $16, a bacon, egg, and cheese on a biscuit will cost a buck extra, while coffee will go up by a quarter to $3.25. The tip line for pastries and other takeaway fare, often a point of confusion for both tourists and locals at cafes throughout the city, will be nixed as well.
Wages for cooks at Marlow and Diner will rise immediately to at least $14 per hour, while waiters will see their base wages jump up from the tipped minimum, currently $7.50 per hour, to $13 per hour, a number that coincides with what will be NYC's minimum wage requirements for most of 2018. The hourly rate for waiters will be supplemented by weekly revenue share.
Tarlow wouldn’t reveal precisely how much front-of-the-house staffers end up earning altogether, as those numbers, he said, vary from employee to employee and business to business. But having a combination of base wages and revenue share equals what waiters would otherwise earn under a tipping system is what he’s “trying to accomplish.”
New York's no-tipping movement picked up steam in the fall of 2015, when Danny Meyer announced that he’d gradually eliminate gratuities at all of his New York restaurants. A number of his peers and proteges followed suit, Tarlow included. The restaurants that implement it say it's a reliable way to bring predictable, performance-based pay and scheduling to waiters, as well as a way to give raises to kitchen employees who often make less than servers because they can’t partake of tips.
No tipping has also faced criticisms and shortfalls. Going gratuity-free puts restaurants at risk for diminished foot traffic if diners balk at higher prices, and waiters have complained that they can make less money without tips. Restaurants like David Chang’s Nishi and Gabe Stulman’s Fedora both nixed their no-tipping policies after short trial periods.
But small, independent, affordable-ish restaurants like Little Tong Noodle Shop, Pasquale Jones, Huertas, and Cafe China continue to find ways to make no tipping work, while larger operators like Meyer continue to open restaurants without gratuities, and sometimes, without waiters.
Roman’s, an Italian spot in Fort Greene, was Tarlow's first restaurant to make the changeover, in January 2016. Reynard and The Ides, his American restaurant and rooftop bar at the Wythe Hotel in North Williamsburg, followed a few months later. Achilles Heel, his small plates place in Greenpoint, will be the group’s only remaining restaurant to employ a traditional tipping model, but it will change “in the very near future,” the restaurateur says.
Tarlow says he remains optimistic about the policy, but he admits that fallout includes "sticker shock," as well as diners ordering less. For example, guests at Roman’s who might have ordered two starters, two pastas, and one shared main might nix one of those pastas now, Tarlow says.
Accordingly, Diner’s destination burger and fries will go up by only $4 to $21 — making it less than what many other restaurants charge for a burger even before tip. Tarlow says breaking down whole animals and using them across his restaurants provides him with some of the efficiencies necessary to keep prices reasonable.
As far as wider industry complaints from staff regarding less pay, Tarlow says his hospitality group has added hours for some people to make sure they earn enough on a weekly or monthly basis. He adds that while Roman’s has lost a few servers after the switch, he’s not seen abnormal turnover at Reynard or the Ides.
The new format has helped him recruit senior waiters at higher-than-average rates, with some of his best servers earning $17 per hour before revenue share, he says.
“For the restaurant, it’s kind of a positive thing because it allows the front of house to become more committed to the restaurant in the same way that management and back of the house has been, rather than thinking of it as a part-time job,” he says.