the tipping game

Restaurant Owners Continue to Return to Traditional Tipping Models

Portland, Oregon’s Le Pigeon couldn’t make “no tipping” work. Photo: Le Pigeon/Facebook

Back in December, 2015, Union Square Hospitality Group’s Danny Meyer announced the beginning of a brave new, no-tipping world at his restaurants. Meyer, who is one of the titans of New York’s and the country’s dining scene, would end tipping at all of his establishments. While he wasn’t the first in the city to end the standard practice (Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen was an early, vocal member of the no-tipping brigade, for example), his support of the nascent no-tipping movement gave it serious momentum.

Chefs and restaurateurs around the country applauded the move — North Carolina’s Ashley Christensen told Eater it was “nothing short of brave” — and many operators in and outside of New York followed suit. But while USHG’s no-tipping model is going strong (buoyed, in part, by its corporate culture), other owners are now reverting to the standard gratuity model.

The latest to go back to tipping is Portland’s chef Gabriel Rucker, who last March instituted a no-tipping policy at his acclaimed Portland, Oregon, restaurants Le Pigeon and Little Bird. The restaurant raised prices around 20 percent, and co-owner Andrew Fortgang tells Eater Portland that as a result, customers perceived things to be “a little expensive.” Rucker & Co. aren’t alone in returning to tipping. In April, Portland, Maine’s Bao Bao Dumpling House and its Brunswick sister restaurant Tao Yuan also abandoned the no-tipping model after five months. Customers were similarly, Chris Peterman tells the Portland Press Herald, turned off by higher prices and ordered less at meals. At the end of the day, it hurt their bottom line.

Other restaurateurs around the country have found the model untenable for their business model, including San Francisco’s Thad Vogler (Bar Agricole, Trou Normand) and New York’s David Chang. The Momofuku man is one of the country’s most famous chefs, but after opening Momofuku Nishi as a no-tipping establishment, he abandoned the process. There are, however, still some New York spots that — along with USHG establishments like Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and the Modern — remain tip-free. Among others, they include Andrew Tarlow’s Brooklyn spot Roman’s, Bushwick pizzeria Ops, Restaurant Riki, Okonomi, and Pasquale Jones.

More Restaurateurs Returning to Traditional Tipping Models