Dining out has never been more of a process. Gone are the days when you could make a same-day reservation over the phone, enjoy a quick dinner, request the check, do some quick math and be on your way. In today’s world, prime-time tables are attainable primarily by planning weeks, even months, in advance or through apps — many of which charge a fee for their services. Sometimes, these tables don’t appear bookable whatsoever to non-VIP diners. Then there’s the whole tipping issue, a hot topic that’s become a significant issue in the restaurant world as owners consider whether to replace the traditional gratuity with an all-inclusive bill.
Tipping at the end of a meal has always been the norm here in the U.S. That is, it was the norm until a small-scale idea instituted at independent restaurants began to evolve slowly as a means to increase employee wages. The movement was suddenly and forcefully elevated to a national discussion when famed restaurateur Danny Meyer announced in October of last year that he was eliminating tipping at all 13 of his establishments by the end of 2016. We surveyed the scene earlier this year, interviewing one chef who has included an “administrative fee” in lieu of tip since opening her NYC restaurant early last year and listing other prominent restaurateurs following suit.
Fast-forward less than half a year, and websites covering food and restaurants are just as likely to be reporting on a new hot spot experimenting with a no-tipping policy as they are to be profiling the chef or highlighting a popular dish. Meyer spoke at Austin’s SXSW Interactive festival last weekend about the various benefits of testing out no-tipping measures in restaurants and bars, while James Beard Award–winning Portland chef Gabriel Rucker became the latest big name to hop on board, announcing plans to drop tipping at his flagship restaurant, Le Pigeon, by early this summer.
So what have been the results of these initial forays into the brave new gratuity-free world? Meyer just revealed that his upscale restaurant the Modern had its most profitable month ever in December, immediately following the implementation of his “hospitality included” raised-price menus. Employees at Andrew Tarlow’s Roman’s in Fort Greene, however, vented their frustrations about new, service-included policies resulting in pay cuts for waiters and lost opportunities for big paydays on busy nights, according to Grub Street. Meanwhile, chef Eric Ripert of NYC dining institution Le Bernardin has been one of the few to speak out openly against the trend, saying, “Only the government benefits from no tipping.”
Whether or not no-tipping policies benefit diners, employees or — perhaps — just the government, they are certainly front and center in any restaurant discussion. It’s quickly becoming advisable to scan a menu in advance to note if the prices already include gratuity, especially if a restaurant is owned by a well-known chef. The concepts of booking a table and covering the costs for that table have become just as much of the dining experience as time spent eating at the table itself. And that alone speaks volumes about where we are in 2016.