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NYC bars/restaurants that don't pay their workers via tips?
January 6, 2013 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Are there any restaurants or bars in NYC that pay their workers with proper, decent wages, rather than with tips?

I've always been against the pay-employees-lower-than-minimum-wage-and-let-them-earn-tips system that the US continues to support. After seeing this image via a post on Reddit, I started thinking pretty hard about trying my best to support a better system.

I'm currently traveling abroad in a place where tips rarely exist, whether in restaurants or bars or anywhere else. As a result, I can be (relatively) confident that the workers are being paid with regular, stable wages, rather than leaving the worker's wages up to the fickle attitudes and moods of each individual customer.[1] Not only is this unstable for the worker, it also creates a pretty class-based system where the customer feels like he/she is "rewarding" the worker for 'good service'. I live in New York, which is restaurant/bar central, and thus also want to support businesses that feel the same way.

I'm therefore looking for places that don't accept tips, or don't pay their workers with primarily tips.

Obviously places like a food cart or a to-go-coffee shop, where tips are optional rather than 'semi-mandatory' don't really count. I am looking for, say, a sit-down restaurant that always has a mandatory service charge, no matter the size of the group. But any place that has exceptionally good working/labor practices is welcomed also!

Thanks, AskMe!

1. Of course, the question of whether or not the workers' wages are high enough is another question entirely.
posted by suedehead to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
well the obvious answer is eat at nicer places where the tip pool is large enough to guarantee a reasonable wage for everyone on the staff.. And even at places with a mandatory service charge, you have no idea how that pool is distributed and salaries at those restaurants are still on the same set of wages as comparable places.


Your best/only option is to seek out places that are unionized - mostly old school hotel restaurants in midtown. But the fair wages are about the only good thing about those places.
posted by JPD at 8:14 AM on January 6, 2013


I agree with JPD. What you're looking for does not exist.
posted by dfriedman at 8:15 AM on January 6, 2013


I am looking for, say, a sit-down restaurant that always has a mandatory service charge, no matter the size of the group.

Mandatory service charges are not enforceable in New York so it is unlikely that you would find such a thing.

That being said, it's certainly possible that there are restaurants that have explicity gone out of their way to include such charges in the menu prices and pay a higher wage as a result (something which I'm sure would be done mostly for publicity, as I can't imagine how it would be financially feasible to run such a restaurant in New York), but I have yet to hear of any.
posted by bcwinters at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


COLORS is a worker-owned cooperative associated with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, though it doesn't appear to be open regular hours right now.
posted by akgerber at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Per Se, if you can afford it.
posted by grouse at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mandatory service charges are not enforceable in New York so it is unlikely that you would find such a thing.

Mandatory gratuities or tips may not be enforceable according to one district attorney, but service charges are likely to be.
posted by grouse at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2013


You can start with the National Diners Guide from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, they list restaurants in major cities with good employment practices, and there's an app you can use. If you also look at unionized restaurants (which for the most part are in hotels in major cities now) you'll have some good places to start.
posted by cushie at 8:42 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


JPD - because I'm opposed to the tip idea at all, "eat at nicer places" wouldn't really be affecting anything because it wouldn't be supporting a restaurant that explicitly tries to move away from the tip-as-wage system. Mandatory service charges at least guarantee a stable income for the restaurant for each dish/meal/item, which then has a higher chance of easily guaranteeing a stable wage for its workers. Over time, if more restaurants move towards a mandatory service charge system, then we'd have more stability for the workers as a whole.

Unionized places are ideal, though -- do you have specific "old school hotel restaurants" that you're thinking of? Are all hotel restaurants unionized?
posted by suedehead at 8:44 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if you have Wegmans in NYC (it's a chain grocery store) but they have built in pubs here in the Philly area and pay hourly and don't accept tips.

However, as a former server, the thing I despise about the no-tip idea is that places then pay less hourly than I'd make in comparison. For ex the Wegmans pays $15/hr. I was making $18-20 on average at the restaurant across the street, and our bartenders made $20-30/hr depending on the shift.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:54 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]




(As a long-time server and bartender, I think it is worth pointing out that my average hourly wage including tips averaged out to well above what non-tipped employees, such as non-managerial kitchen staff, were earning, and they worked MUCH harder than I did. I turned down many offers to "move up" into management, because it was a pay cut.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Restaurants moving toward a mandatory service charge as a whole will only offer more stability for servers when this country supports an actual living minimum wage. Until then, restaurants serve to meet the bottom line, not to support workers themselves, so waiters working outside of the tipping system are likely to not be given much more than minimum wage and will therefore seek employment elsewhere. So perhaps seeking out legislators to work toward improving minimum wage will serve your purpose and ideals better than seeking out restaurants with your requirements, as they don't really exist.
posted by greta simone at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cushie's list of unionized places is better than I expected - but all of them are pricy.

Also they all still require tipping.
posted by JPD at 9:06 AM on January 6, 2013


JPD - because I'm opposed to the tip idea at all, "eat at nicer places" wouldn't really be affecting anything because it wouldn't be supporting a restaurant that explicitly tries to move away from the tip-as-wage system. Mandatory service charges at least guarantee a stable income for the restaurant for each dish/meal/item, which then has a higher chance of easily guaranteeing a stable wage for its workers. Over time, if more restaurants move towards a mandatory service charge system, then we'd have more stability for the workers as a whole.

If your issue is variability in compensation - I think you are overestimating the variability in tipping. I would guess at most places in NYC the standard deviation of tips is really low. Besides the bigger issue is compensation for BOH staff like porters, bussers and dishwashers. Even with a service charge you don't know how that distribution works.
posted by JPD at 9:11 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, when I worked in a restaurant, income was much less of a problem than lack of benefits. The large majority of waitstaff in the US (including in NY, as far as I know) have no health insurance, no paid sick days, etc. But there are some restaurants that do offer those things. So it might be more feasible to track down restaurants that provide benefits to their full time employees than to get away from tipping, and I think that would still be useful in supporting establishments that treat their employees well.
posted by unsub at 9:31 AM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


BitterOldPunk - I understand - I have friends who would make hundreds of dollars on a single weekend night bartending or serving at pricey resturants. And greta simone - yes, I understand that legislation is the real answer.

However, for the time being, I spend my money on restaurants and bars, sometimes. For the time being, I'd like my money to go towards businesses that have good labor practices, and that don't have tips.

This is my logic:
1) A server at an expensive restaurant earns way more in tips than a server at a inexpensive restaurant -- perhaps twice, thrice, or maybe even an order of magnitude, depending on the difference in food prices. Yet the work between the two restaurants, while a little different, is probably not as different as the tips are. Serving at an expensive restaurant for 10 hours probably does not equate to serving at an inexpensive restaurant for 20, 30, or 100 hours, yet workers are paid as such.
2) This would probably make most servers gravitate towards expensive restaurants, since for the same work, you get paid more!
3) Tips are the main source of income for workers at expensive restaurants, while in less expensive ones, the hourly wage becomes a higher percentage of income. An inexpensive sit-down restaurant is essentially a situation for a low-hourly-wage and low-tips.
4) Especially since the hourly wage is a higher percentage of income, demand for servers at inexpensive sit-down restaurants are low.
5) Some less expensive restaurants eliminate tipping positions altogether, and come up with alternate non-server-based models for operation. Hence the prevalence of the non-sit-down restaurant, non-tip-based sit-down restaurant, or tip-based sit-down restaurant with highly limited staff: Fast-food-esque places like Maoz, falafel/schwarma places, Delis (Katz's Deli), pizza joints, Some diners (like B&H), almost all cafes, etc.
6) Servers work mostly at the expensive restaurants, thus most servers earn the majority of wages through tips.
7) "The majority of server's wages come through tips" provides a great justification for the lowering (or the limiting of raising) of the minimum wage.
8) Tips continue to be a primary source of income for servers/waiters.
9) See step 1.
posted by suedehead at 9:48 AM on January 6, 2013


your logic in point one is flawed. A server at Eleven Madison Park is far more skilled and the role is demanding in a way being a server at an Applebees is not. Which isn't to say serving in an Applebees isn't an exhausting and underpaid job, but it is a very different job then serving at a fine dining restaurant. You or I would be as good at serving at Per Se at tonights service as would someone who works at Applebees today.

Compensation sources are fungible. What matters isn't what comes via tip and what comes via hourly wages, but rather what the aggregate compensation is. You and I would probably deem the total compensation and benefits at a chain fast casual restaurant a non-livable wage, but it doesn't really matter how much of that comes from tips and how much of that comes from wage compensation. If you eliminate tipping and force a higher minimum wage it doesn't really change much, because its still the same labor market with the same minimum wage people will accept - whether that be mandated by the state, or it be a wage they can earn doing a different job, it doesn't really matter.

Nearly all of the "non-tipping" places in point 5 pay something equivalent to the cheapest wage that clears the market - that might be minimum wage, that might be something a bit higher, but it is not something that in NYC approaches an approximation of a livable wage.
posted by JPD at 10:24 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


unsub is exactly correct. Find a restaurant that offers benefits to all their employees and give that place your support.
posted by elizardbits at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2013


Not to be argumentative here, but I think this is a point you should think about (and a hole in your logic).

Most careers -- and jobs -- have temp work, entry level, and promotions. Most careers employ relatively unskilled people at the entry level, and pay them the least. As people gain experience, skill, and longevity, they become qualified for higher level positions that pay better.

This is really no different in the service industry. 5-star restaurants are just not going to employ people with the same qualifications as an Applebees would. Applebees is an entry-level restaurant, people do their time there, get some experience and skill, and move up to a better restaurant. At least here in Philly, decent restaurants won't hire anyone without 2 years of experience, and the nice restaurants want at least 4 years of experience. Bartenders often start out as servers, and that is another way to move up. But again, a couple years as a server, then you start barbacking or working for a crappy bar to get more experience. It takes a couple years to qualify for the best gigs.

So yes, there is a disparity in income for someone at a 5* restaurant versus an Applebees. But there is a fairly equal disparity between their skill level, their experience, their longevity, their quality, and where they are on the career totem pole.

A lot of people use restaurant work as a temporary gig, but a lot of people do it as a career. Career waitstaff should be able to have a way to move up, a motivation to learn more and become more skilled, and opportunities for better employment, just like most other career paths.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:51 AM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


You could try McDonald's. While the wages aren't great, there's no tipping and full-time crew get health care coverage. Larger hotel chains like Hyatt or Marriott or Fairmont tend to be unionized so their wages are higher, and Marriott's buffets are really good.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unionized places are ideal, though

Unionized servers, working in hotel restaurants, are still working for tips.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2013


Yuka on the Upper East Side is a sushi restaurant that explicitly rejects tips and has an entire menu page devoted to them paying their employees a fair, no-tip-needed wage. There's a 15% management service charge and that's it. It sounds like what you're looking for.
posted by unionsquarepark at 1:12 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wha? I make way more earning tips than when I worked a waged job. That photo is just a shitty excuse for a stiff, which happens from time to time. If I had to work for say, $15 an hour in this business I'd quit right away. I guess I don't understand why you're looking for what you're looking for. I will say, having worked in a variety of restaurants: working fine dining is not the same as greasy spoon working. If one is worth more than the other, I dunno, but some people can do one and not the other.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2013


The Cornell Club doesn't accept tips, but you have to be a member (or be with a member) to dine there. I think many of the other university clubs are similar.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:33 PM on January 6, 2013


My last comment:

Career waitstaff should be able to have a way to move up, a motivation to learn more and become more skilled, and opportunities for better employment, just like most other career paths.

I absolutely agree, which is why I'm against tips and for decent wages + benefits.

Nearly all of the "non-tipping" places in point 5 pay something equivalent to the cheapest wage that clears the market - that might be minimum wage, that might be something a bit higher, but it is not something that in NYC approaches an approximation of a livable wage.

Yes, I understand that, which is why I'm looking for places that do pay a living wage.

I make way more earning tips than when I worked a waged job.

Yes, I understand that tips pay more than wages. I'm saying that this is the problem. I'm trying to change this, a few dollars at a time. Thus a response like "well, currently a tipped job makes for a higher-paying job" is probably true at the individual level and erroneous at a social level.

There are countries (Australia, Japan) that don't really have a tipping culture, and exist fine. Waiters and bartenders and back-of-house staff have wages and benefits. In other countries, not tipping works. There are countries that have more of a tipping culture (France, UK) but thankfully have nationalized healthcare and other safety nets.

And then you have the US, which has a tipping culture and no safety net.

I'd like to use the little money I do spend going out on places that treat their workers decently, not like a fungible resource. To me, the long-term solution is to change legislation; the shorter-term solution is to move away from tipping towards a stable (and higher) wage, and like what unsub and elizarbits mention, to also offer benefits.

Lastly, I expected a lot of disagreement in the form of "This works now, anything else won't work." Any kind of given change from a current status will always be met with friction and resistance -- sometimes for a good reason, sometimes just due to momentum and inertia, or a "that's how things are done" mindset. I think it's worth examining where a resistance to change comes from, and that if we can at least imagine possible alternatives, to seek to manifest those things that are possible.

I agree with JPD. What you're looking for does not exist.

Ah, the kicker is that it does. It exists in NYC (as evidenced by some of the answers), and it exists in other countries. If I have to pay more because I'm paying a mandatory service charge of 25%, then so be it, I'll do that. These things are important.

To paraphrase Zizek: why is it that we can easily imagine the end of the world or life on Mars, but not a slight modification to the way wages and labor work?
posted by suedehead at 6:34 PM on January 6, 2013


I see what you're getting at, but speaking as a former waitress and bartender I am not at all interested in getting paid a straight across the board, 'living wage'. I've bartended/waitressed in Australia, New Zealand and my native Canada and even though I got a higher minimum wage in Aus/NZ (and no tips) I MUCH prefer serving in Canada. I can bring home way more money, a much higher hourly wage and I enjoy the challenge of working in a tip-oriented workplace.

The no-tip model is good for customers, but I doubt you'll find any servers who would sign up for it.

I agree with unsub. Find places that pay their staff benefits.
posted by Pademelon at 6:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The people working in "non-tipping" countries are making a better wage, but their overall pay level is much, much lower than people working in higher end places in the U.S. If you're making a few dollars more an hour and losing out on hundreds of dollars a day in tips, you're coming out behind. I guess in some places, the insurance/benefits would be worth that amount of lost tips, but definitely not all places in this country. I think you're getting so much disagreement from people in the industry because most of us would totally take low minimum + plenty of tips over a slightly higher hourly wage + little to no tips.

However, I might be spoiled living in Oregon, where servers make regular state minimum wage, not a server minimum wage like a lot of states. I also work for a company that offers benefits to anyone working over 30 hours a week on average after one year. I know that would be much more of a rarity in bigger cities, especially NYC.
posted by evilbeck at 9:21 PM on January 6, 2013


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