Top dog restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern) and his alleged cronies — Momofuku’s David Chang, Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, Bar Sardine’s Gabriel Stulman, and more — are trying to dismiss the October lawsuit claiming they’re working together to steal tips from workers by going tip-free at their restaurants.
The suit, filed in California federal court, paints these restaurateurs as colluding to steal tips from servers as profit through nixing tipping, which would violate anti-trust laws and raise menu prices — the crux of what makes the practice illegal, the suit argues.
In a new dismissal motion, in full below, the group calls the suit “frivolous” for four reasons: Timothy Brown, the Minnesota man making these claims, has never dined at any of their restaurants; the restaurants all have different policies adopted at different times; the restaurants are too spread across the country to be violating any antitrust laws; and there’s no reason a Minnesota man should file a lawsuit against NYC restaurants in a California court. The final point of their argument is that Brown can simply choose to dine elsewhere:
Simply put, Plaintiff may prefer to dine at virtually any sit-down restaurant in America, where he may find lower menu prices with the option to tip some members of the team, or to save money by not tipping at all. That is a choice, but it is not a national class action. The Complaint should be dismissed.
The no-tipping movement has been part of national conversation in recent years, spurred on by rising minimum wage, the disparity in pay between front-of-house and back-of-house employees, and the struggle to find and retain kitchen talent.
Meyer was one of the first major players in the hospitality to industry to publicly and loudly announce in 2015 that his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants — Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Untitled, and more — would move to a gratuity-included business model in 2016.
While the practice been adopted by the restaurateurs named here, it has not been without its setbacks. Restaurants like Fedora and Nishi in NYC and Bar Agricole in SF backpedaled on the practice when they couldn’t make it work. Others continue with the practice, while new restaurants such as Legacy Records open with tipping-included pricing.
Meyer’s lawyer — who filed collectively for all the restaurateurs — declined to comment for the story, and Brown’s attorneys did not return Eater’s request for comment. The next decision is set for April 6. Stay tuned for more.