The movement to eliminate tipping in American restaurants may be showing its first signs of wear. On Monday, Gabe Stulman, a New York City restaurateur who joined the growing no-gratuities campaign in December, announced that he would be reinstating the gratuity system at Fedora, his clamorous West Village haunt. Fedora was Stulman’s first venue to test out a service-included model, which required higher menu prices.
Meanwhile, last week, far from the island of Manhattan, the casual-dining chain Joe’s Crab Shack also reduced its commitment to a gratuity-free model, cutting the number of outlets participating in the tip-free experiment from 18 to 4.
Both developments are worthy of note, but it’s this latter one that seems particularly significant. Joe’s Crab Shack was the first major restaurant chain to tinker with its model. The seafood chain, which has 130 locations, tested out a service-included model months before the New York restaurateur Danny Meyer created a media furor with the announcement that he would eventually banish tipping at all of his 13 restaurants and raise menu prices to cover the cost of service.
“The system has to change at some point, but our customers and staff spoke very loudly,” said Bob Merritt, CEO of Joe’s Crab Shack parent company Ignite Restaurant Group, during an analyst call last week. “And a lot of them voted with their feet.”