David Chang, who unsuccessfully tried to implement no tipping at his a la carte Momofuku Nishi, is giving the policy another go at a restaurant where it will likely be a more intuitive fit: his expensive and elegant Ko. When the two-Michelin-starred, tasting menu East Village spot re-opens following its winter recess on Thursday, February 8, all prices will be reflective of service.
The 10- to 12-course set menu will rise from $195 to $255, though patrons will really only be paying about $20 more since gratuities will no longer be expected or accepted. The receipt will not have a tip line. Ko’s wine pairings, in turn, will rise by by $20 to $195 — which is technically a price drop if diners previously tipped 20 percent.
Ko’s price increases will accompany renovations and a new entrance at the restaurant; patrons will now enter one door down in the 8 Extra Place alleyway. A newly constructed bar will also debut an a la carte menu for walk-ins. The previous bar area only served shorter set menus, which Eater reviewed last year.
The a la carte bar, which Ko hopes will make the restaurant more accessible, will serve as a “creative engine” for the longer set menu, a spokesperson for Ko told Eater NY, adding that the space will let chefs play around with techniques and ingredients not typically possible in a tasting format.
The no-tipping movement has experienced failures over the years, often at casual venues like Joe’s Crab Shack or Fedora; those setbacks can come from customers balking at higher prices or service staff defections. Even Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which is largely credited with kicking off the modern gratuity-free movement, has seen high staff turnover among legacy employees. Going tip-free at tasting menu venues, by contrast, has been greeted with more open arms across the country, as the respective clienteles already expect to spend more.
Restaurants implement no tipping policies for a variety of reasons: ensuring more stable pay and scheduling for waiters; improving price transparency for guests; increasing their own ability to manage the venue’s finances through higher revenue; and bridging the wage gap between-front of-house staffers, who can collect tips, and back-of-house staffers like cooks, who typically cannot accept gratuities.
There are, however, a few exceptions to cooks being able to accept gratuities. Those exceptions usually involve kitchen counter restaurants or sushi spots. Ko is, for the most part, a chef’s counter spot. At those types of venues, where chefs are often the chief point of interaction with the customer, those chefs can partake in tips — though legal compliance with this so-called sushi exception can be quite tricky. Going service-included is generally viewed as a legally safer way to compensate chefs with funds that, under a traditional tipping system, would have counted as gratuities for front-of-house staff.