Restaurants have had to pass the fee on to the customer
Restaurants have had to pass the fee on to the customer

US no-tipping movement is causing restaurant job losses and pricier dishes

To manage costs, restaurants have had to hunt down savings where ever possible

Sarah Young@sarah_j_young
Thursday 15 December 2016 16:28

It sounds like a simple change for a restaurant to make; scrapping tipping and boosting staff wages instead.

But after a surge in the number of US restaurants doing this 12 months ago, a year of upheaval ensued.The expense involved means eateries have been forced to take surprising new measures to balance the books.

To manage costs, restaurants have had to scale up food prices and hunt down savings where ever possible.

The owners of Huertas, a Spanish small plates restaurant in New York, abolished tipping last December, but as a result have had to pass the fee on to the customer.

Their octopus plate alone has risen to $21 from $16 but with the addition of an extra tentacle, Huertas hope to ease the sting.

The ramifications don’t stop their though because while some dishes may be growing in size the kitchen staff are dwindling.

Where Huertas used to run with six cooks, it’s now making do with just four or five, but they say the extra work is pushing both chefs and servers to work harder and better than ever before.

For an industry that has for so long relied on tips to subsidise payroll, what might seem like a simple decision is causing quite a bit of chaos.

“This is more like opening a new restaurant,” Dino Lavorini, the director of operations at the Modern which ended tipping in November 2015, told the New York Times.

The reasoning behind the no-tipping movement is fully justified. The switch hopes to bring the nation’s roughly $800 billion restaurant business into the modern world, with more equality between those who work in kitchens, and those who work front of house.

In the US, servers compete ruthlessly for Saturday night shifts when tips run high, and in some instances, can reap up to three times the amount of an experienced line cook.

“There was regularly a 500 percent deficit between the back of the house and the front of the house,” said Abram Bissell, the executive chef of the Modern.

“Like every kitchen in New York, we were having trouble attracting and retaining talent at that pay grade.”

As a result, some restaurants that adopted the no-tipping policy have already revoked it but the owners of Huertas say they have no plans to revert, despite the many short-term complications.

“It took hundreds of years to build up the traditions of how things are done in restaurants,” he said. “We can’t expect to change all of that in one year,” Nate Adler said.

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