There are some sound reasons for getting rid of tipping. Research suggests it’s not very fair: Tips have been found to be based just as much on servers’ race and age or the weather outside as on the quality of service. Plus, at The Modern, the first of Danny Meyer’s restaurants to stop accepting tips, average hourly wages in the kitchen were expected to jump from about $12 to $15 an hour—which should mean not just better treatment for restaurant workers, but also less employee turnover.
How have The Modern’s customers reacted? One employee told The New York Times said that when she called up diners to confirm their reservations, she informed them about the policy and didn’t receive any negative feedback. Perhaps there is a class dimension to this acceptance of a no-tipping rule—diners at a restaurant where dinner starts at $122 are probably not fretting about the costs of built-in gratuity. Indeed, some of The Modern’s first customers were so okay parting with their money that they didn’t just accept the service charge—they left tips as high as 30 percent on top of their bills, despite the protests of servers.
Outside of New York, though, other American restaurants are seeing what happens when they get rid of tips, and finding that it brings mixed results. One San Diego restaurant owner wrote in Slate that abolishing tipping improved food and service, but a local alt-weekly helpfully noted that his restaurant wasn’t very popular and eventually shut down. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, a restaurant called Bar Marco got rid of tips and started paying full-time chefs $35,000 a year (with benefits) without much ado. Bar Marco’s sister restaurant, though, went through with a similar move, only to find some employees upset—three bartenders resigned, and very few other Pittsburgh restaurants have adopted the practice. “Ours is not a good model for everyone,” Bar Marco’s co-owner said to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
So: The no-tipping movement is going against overwhelming public inertia, and isn’t consistently successful. There’s a decent chance that it will just peter out.
That said, it’s possible that this start—however shaky it may be—will pan out into something far more widespread. Tipping may not seem like a trend in the same way that kale is, but plenty of non-culinary aspects of restaurants get disseminated far and wide, from tattoo-adorned servers to table arrangements that cram more paying diners into a restaurant in the name of community. Tipping could potentially become as much about how restaurants present themselves culturally as they are about compensation.
Consider that in the restaurant world, the cutting-edge trends of yesterday have become the standards of today. In 2004, “hunt[ing] down superior ingredients … and let[ting] them express themselves as clearly as possible” was one reason the restaurant Per Se earned the highest possible rating from The New York Times’s head food critic. Now that’s what people expect of Chipotle and Panera. Similarly, in 2012, only four years after the L.A. chef Roy Choi catapulted the concepts both of Korean tacos and food trucks to national prominence, TGI Friday’s introduced a line of Korean tacos. (And two years after that, Friday’s announced a promotional food truck that would rove around American cities.) In the context of Friday’s, Korean tacos and a food truck may be gimmicks, but they represent the adoption of trends nonetheless.
There are reasons, then, to think that tipping will trickle down like any other food trend. “I think as Danny [Meyer] goeth, so shall the rest,” the chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain told Gothamist. “I mean, he was the first guy in New York to ban smoking—something for which I gave him a lot of shit back then, but look at us now.”