In a blow to the gratuity-free movement in NYC’s restaurant market, Andrew Tarlow — one of the biggest restaurateurs to embrace it years ago — is reverting back to a tipping model at all of his Brooklyn venues next month. Restaurants that fall under Tarlow’s Marlow Collective, including local hits like Roman’s, Diner, and Marlow & Sons, will begin accepting tips once again on December 17.
In a statement sent to Eater, Tarlow cites industry “challenges and inequalities” like the wage gap between front- and back-of-house staffers as a reason he started no-tipping, but the higher cost of dishes has been an issue. Some dishes increased in price by 20 percent to pay employees higher hourly rates, and though he knew from the onset that the switch would cost him money, the higher prices have ultimately been too difficult for diners to swallow for the business to make sense.
“It’s become impossible to ignore that removing tips has created new challenges that we are unable to solve, chiefly that prices have hit a peak that the market cannot bear,” he says. “In order for a gratuity-free model to be sustainable for casual, full-service restaurants like ours, the public has to buy in, and as an industry we struggle with communicating to consumers the true cost of dining out.”
Menu prices will go down again as part of the change.
Tarlow first pledged to eliminate tipping at his casual restaurants in 2015, shortly after Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, the first high-profile restaurant empire to promise to erase tipping. Though several restaurants in NYC, like Dirt Candy, had already nixed tipping, Meyer’s decision started a mini-movement. “Having Danny out in front of it has been a huge impetus for us to take the plunge,” Tarlow said when he first announced the move three years ago.
But Tarlow’s not the first to change his mind.
Earlier this year, Claus Meyer abandoned the policy at his Nordic restaurant Agern, which originally opened as a no-tipping establishment inside Grand Central in 2016. Casual Midtown Sichuan restaurant Café China also eliminated tipping in 2016, but brought it back a year later, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Momofuku’s David Chang tried it for five months at Nishi, but he soon switched back to the traditional model.
Employees — including staffers at Tarlow’s Fort Greene restaurant Roman’s — often fought against going gratuity-free, some claiming they’re paid less when tips are slashed off their wages. Several Tarlow employees alleged that their pay dropped a good 15 to 20 percent, while others quit when the switch happened. Meyer of Union Square says he lost 20 to 30 percent of his longest-standing staff as he gradually rolled out the changes.
Tarlow first implemented it at his Fort Greene restaurant Roman’s, and after a rollout there, he moved onto Reynard at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg in 2016. (He left Reynard earlier this year.) His popular Williamsburg restaurants Marlow & Sons and Diner were next, with the tip line disappearing off those checks in September 2017. Achilles Heel never made the transition.
When no-tipping started at Tarlow restaurants, it was a big win for the anti-gratuity revolution, which was meant to help bridge the pay gap between employees who can collect tips, like waiters, and those who can’t, like cooks. It also was intended to offset the increased labor costs due to rising minimum wages.
But some casual restaurants are still giving no-tipping a go, like East Village Basque restaurant Huertas. And many fine dining spots have long been no tipping, like Eleven Madison Park and Sen Sakana. Chang, too, is giving the model another try at Ko, his East Village restaurant with pricey set menus and an a la carte bar. Meanwhile, Meyer continues to implement the model across his Union Square group.
Tarlow will begin collecting tips at his restaurants on December 17. See his full statement below.
On Monday, December 17th, we will return to a tipped system at Diner, Marlow & Sons, and Roman’s. The same challenges and inequalities exist in this industry today that led us to Gratuity Free, including the widening gap between front and back of house wages, as well as a desire to take responsibility for paying all of our staff, instead of passing half of that burden on to the guest.
It’s become impossible to ignore that removing tips has created new challenges that we are unable to solve, chiefly that prices have hit a peak that the market cannot bear. In order for a Gratuity Free model to be sustainable for casual full-service restaurants like ours, the public has to buy in, and as an industry we struggle with communicating to consumers the true cost of dining out.
Ultimately, we ended up serving an ideal at the expense of taking care of our staff, which is a trade-off I did not fully anticipate and am unwilling to make. We will continue to seek out more socially and economically equitable solutions to the myriad of issues facing our industry, including ending the two-tier wage system. The values that motivated Gratuity Free I still hold, and will pursue in turn. To not acknowledge those values would do a disservice to the hard working staff and loyal customers who participated in and supported this movement.