I’ve been reading a lot in the past few weeks about restaurant owners who are deciding to do away with tipping. Especially Danny Meyer, who runs a bunch of restaurants in New York City. Even though there seems to be a lot of press lately surrounding his decision to make this change, the trend toward non-tipping restaurants isn’t really new. There have been restaurants doing away with tipping all over the country for at least a few years now.

If you’ve eaten at Casa Nueva in the past few years, you probably noticed that we’ve stopped accepting tips. A couple of us had done some research on the history and practice of tipping and decided that it doesn’t really jibe with our cooperative values. We wanted to charge people what we believed our food and labor was worth. We don’t believe that our servers should have to grovel for a fair wage. And if our employees aren’t providing excellent service, then we as business owners need to train them better or hold them accountable.

In our research, we read article after article telling us what we already knew from experience: people don’t often tip based on the quality of the service, and when they do, it does nothing to make that server…or line cook or bartender or prep cook…work harder or provide better service.

Before we could convince our co-owners that tipping was not good for our culture, the Department of Labor came in and forced us into a change anyway. Although we were following the spirit of the law by making pay equitable for workers while not sharing tips with management, we were not following the letter of the law. We aren’t allowed to force “traditionally tipped employees” to share tips with the cooks, dishwashers, food preps, and others who contribute to the customers’ meal.

While deciding how to best make a change that would follow the law to the letter, we considered what it would take for us to split tips among only “traditionally tipped employees” and pay the other positions a higher tip-less wage. It would have been a nightmare for us to try to work that out, especially because our workers are often cross trained. They may work as bartenders one day, restaurant servers the next, and cooks or preps the rest of the week. We were told by the Department of Labor that tipped employees can only work in non-tipped positions a certain percentage of the time. What a headache.

After much discussion (and argument) we decided to raise prices by about as much as our regular tip average had been, and then split that extra sales amount among the workers in the same way we used to split our tips. So now instead of a Tip Wage, we each earn a Revenue Share Wage based upon how many hours we each worked on shift during the pay period. Administrative and management work is still paid at a different rate.

We’ve been a no-tipping establishment for a few years now, and most of our customers are aware of the change. Occasionally someone doesn’t realize that we don’t accept tips and leaves money on the table or bar. We choose a different charity each month that our customers can contribute to by leaving money with us–kind of like a donation box–and if people accidentally leave money behind, we donate it to the charity as well. We started the monthly charity donations as a way to deal with the accidental tips, but it has grown into a program that people enjoy contributing to. We even invite members of the chosen charity to come in for a happy hour event one day during their month to promote the charity.

Since going tip-less, we don’t think that our service standards have decreased one bit. In fact with the work we’ve put into our training systems, we think that service has improved. If you disagree with us, or if you ever have an experience at Casa that you think would not be worthy of a tip, please let us know so we know what we can do to fix it. Working with the staff to learn where they can improve is so much more effective than giving them a low tip and leaving them to wonder what they did wrong.

The trend toward non-tipping restaurants is a positive one. Thanks to Danny Meyer and all the other restaurant owners who have started moving us in that direction.

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