no-tipping

The No-Tipping Era Is Officially Done

Indoor dining won’t return to Union Square Café, but tipping has. Photo: Francesco Sapienza

Hospitality no longer included. When Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants reopen for outdoor dining, they’ll do so with a major change to service: tipping. The restaurateur announced the decision to staff, and writes on LinkedIn that “we’ve come to believe that it’s the inability to share tips that is the problem, not the tips themselves.” Still, the New York Times reports that he’s working with One Fair Wage “to eliminate” tipping. (In an op-ed for Time, Meyer and One Fair Wage Saru Jayaraman call for the end to the tipped minimum wage.) But with Union Square Café set to reopen this Thursday, Meyer says that he doesn’t want to deny employees extra wages, though a return to tipping means that front of house employees wages will become more uncertain. In lieu of this so-called “Hospitality Included” program, USHG will institute a revenue-sharing system for kitchen employees.

Meyer’s reversal comes five years after he first announced Hospitality Included, which at the time was heralded as a decision that would “save the restaurant industry.” Many other influential restaurateurs — including Andrew Tarlow, David Chang, and Gabriel Stulman — followed suit, all eventually returning to a tipping model. The transition away from tipping was not seamless at USHG, leading to staff turnover and tension. In 2018, San Francisco bar owner Thad Volger talked to Grub Street about his own experiment with no-tipping, saying, “There was this idea that it was inevitable, and a huge groundswell … But that was bullshit — it wasn’t catching on, and it was very difficult. As much as I agree and I believe in the principle, it was too hard.”

Speaking with the Times, Meyer acknowledges that as long as there is a tipped minimum wage — which allows service employees to be paid below the regular minimum wage — “tips are the only way to make the system work.” (Still, other restaurants have made no-tipping work, including Dirt Candy and Crowns Heights bar Hunky Dorky, which reopened by pulling a reverse Meyer and going no-tipping. )

This week, One Fair Wage published a new report with findings on how the discriminatory origins of tipping persist, including a $5 difference in hourly wages among Black women and white men who worked tipped jobs. That difference climbs to nearly $8 in New York. According to the report, restaurant workers and employers surveyed say tips are down 50 percent, at a time when they’re being asked to risk their own health.

This post has been updated to clarify the nature of Meyer’s work with One Fair Wage.

The No-Tipping Era Is Officially Done