Agern, a Michelin-starred Nordic tasting menu-centric restaurant in Grand Central, will abandon the no-tipping policy that it opened with and focus more heavily on a la carte offerings, including a burger with aged gouda, a grilled lamb sausage, and “expansive vegetable forward offerings.” The changes will go into effect on Saturday at the Grand Central restaurant, though the tasting menus will remain.
Claus Meyer, the globetrotting chef, television personality, and philanthropist who co-founded Noma and a restaurant in Bolivia, tells Eater the decision was motivated by attracting more diners. “We will have a better chance of getting more butts in the seats,” he says, if the restaurant’s prices seem more approachable. Moving away from no tipping involves lowering prices.
The no-tipping policy additionally became more difficult to implement following a flood that shuttered the restaurant for four months last year, Meyer says. Generally speaking, when business drops at a service-included spot, the owners face increased financial risks from paying a higher base wage — a wage that would have been largely paid by customer gratuities under traditional tipping.
Meyer says benefits will remain under the new tipping system, which include up to $20 hourly rates for cooks, matching 401K policies, and one of the most generous family leave policies in the industry. But some staffers are not happy with the changes. General manager Katie Bell announced on Instagram that she’s leaving the restaurant. “Agern is making some shifts on her path and I and some others have decided to move on in another direction,” she wrote.
Another employee at the restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous in an effort to maintain employment there, says that three other managers will leave the restaurant by the end of March, citing the way the changes were “rammed through.” A spokesperson for Agern said she did not “have information at this time” about staff departures outside of Bell.
That employee, who was initially attracted to the restaurant because of the no-tipping system, says the revenue-share model inherent with going service-included “was very expensive for the owners, particularly because the restaurant hasn’t performed well enough to support it.” Agern’s waiters, according to the employee, saw their high hourly rate diminished by insufficient time on the floor, with “too many employees for not enough covers.”
Agern opened in the spring of 2016 and by mid-summer Pete Wells of the New York Times awarded it three stars for its “Oslo-on-Hudson” cuisine.