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It’s been less than a year since the owners of Portland, Oregon-based sister restaurants Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro decided to enforce a no-tipping policy.
Now they’re bringing it back, Eater reported last week.
Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro, both co-owned by Chef Gabriel Rucker and Andrew Fortgang, ditched service charges in June 2016 and January 2017, respectively.
“We feel this is the direction that dining, and certainly fine dining, is headed over the next few years,” co-owner Fortgang told The Oregonian in March 2016, when the decision about Le Pigeon was initially announced. “We want to get there and start living in that world.”
Gabe Stulman, who owns Fedora in New York City, also announced that he would be walking back his restaurant’s no-tipping policies earlier this month.
These business owners had followed the lead of famous restaurateur Danny Meyer, who started the impetus to ban tipping in the restaurants that make up his Union Square Hospitality Group, including the famous Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. Meyer has said that tipping is a “hoax” that was brought in after slavery was abolished as a way to get away with not paying workers.
“Tipping started in our country right after the Civil War,” Meyer said in an interview for the “Sporkful” podcast that we first saw on Yahoo Finance. “The restaurant industry as well as the Pullman train car industry successfully petitioned the United States government to make a dispensation for our industries that we would not pay our servers, but it wasn’t considered slavery because we would ask our customers to pay tips. And therefore no one could say they that were being enslaved.”
But tipping is so ingrained in our culture that some restaurants are struggling to get rid of it without putting customers off. To compensate for missing service charges, Fortgang had raised food and beverage prices by 20%.
“Even though the final cost of any given item was the same, the perception that things were a little too expensive was there,” Fortgang told Eater.
According to Michael Lynn, a tipping expert and a professor at Cornell University School of Hotel and Administration, there’s not really an obvious solution to the problem.
“The biggest reason for restaurateurs to replace tipping is that it takes revenue away from them in the form of lower prices and gives it to servers in the form of excessively high tip income,” Lynn writes in a report for Cornell. “The biggest reason for restaurateurs to keep tipping is that it allows them to reduce menu prices, which increases demand.”
Lynn concludes that restaurateurs should look at the level of income disparity between employees, specifically front-of-the-house versus back-of-the-house, and base their decision on that. This means, he says, that many expensive restaurants should replace tipping, as this is where the highest pay discrepancies exist.
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