In the city, for the city: the end of tips...

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Labor laws have exempted restaurants from paying tipped waitstaff normal minimum wage. Instead they've only had to pay a "tipped minimum" to employees whose tips combined with hourly wages averaged at or above the minimum wage paid other workers. Workers in the back of the restaurant don't share the tips waitstaff receive which has led to a growing disparity between waiters, sommeliers, and bartenders, and back of house staff. Cooks make significantly less than waitstaff, but with changes resulting from the recent minimum wage uprising among fast food workers, it's about to get worse.

The tipped minimum wage currently is $5 and the full minimum is $8.75. Starting in January the state tipped minimum will go up fifty percent, from $5 to $7.50, while the regular minimum wage will go up only twenty-five cents, from $8.75 to $9. With cooks working simply for wages and waitstaff adding tips to wages, the inequality between cooks and waiters will get worse.

This has led New York City restauranteur, Danny Meyer, to announce an end to tipping in the thirteen restaurants...

his Union Square Hospitality Group owns (Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Blue Smoke). To replace tips, Meyer is implementing an across-the-board price increase at all USHG businesses. Meyer expects he'll have to raise menu prices around thirty percent, eventually, but sticker shock will be minimized by keeping the increase closer to twenty percent when the policy change is first implemented.

Does Meyer believe his pampered clients will accept the change?

Meyer understands that asking guests to go along with the happy dreamscape of his new pricing regime won’t be easy. In our conversation, he framed the challenge historically, noting that his diners stuck with him 25 years ago when he raised menu prices to buy farmer’s market vegetables, and again when he raised menu prices to cover responsibly raised beef. "Now we’re going to ask you to understand that taking care of people is just as important as animals and plants and all the other stuff," he said. He’s counting on well-paid workers becoming as attractive to virtue-minded diners as well-treated chickens. He’s counting on "fair labor practices" becoming the next "organic." He’s counting on higher prices to spur consumer demand, rather than eliminate it.

Meyer's in the city, for the city. When New Yorkers evolve beyond taking care of vegetables and cows to "taking care of people," look for more human flourishing. 

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!