Whither restaurant tipping? New York City could set new trend

Fri Oct 23, 2015 4:55pm EDT
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By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The centuries-old tradition of tipping at New York restaurants predates the Statue of Liberty and seems woven into the fabric of a city that often sets social trends for the rest of the country.

But now Restaurateur Danny Meyer, owner of tourist hotspot Shake Shack, upscale Union Square Cafe and The Modern, is tipping the tables on gratuities, saying he will eliminate them at 13 of his New York City restaurants and increase base wages for cooks and servers while raising base prices.

Gratuities generate tens of billions of dollars a year for servers, and the practice is not expected to disappear overnight. Some restaurants have already discontinued tipping while others ended discretionary tipping by including a base tip on the check. But tips on merit are still widespread.

Experts said such a move by a man like Meyer is sure to start the industry rethinking a practice that is as much a given as cutlery on the table.

"He's taking the first, very visible step in going in that direction," said Cydna Bougae, clinical assistant professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.

Even so, she observed, "there's going to be a lot of wait and see with the industry."

Meyer has portrayed the new policy as part of a growing national movement to assure a minimum hourly wage of $15 for workers at fast-food restaurants and other service businesses.

The National Restaurant Association, a trade group that is opposed to the $15-an-hour initiative, said restaurants should decide their own tip policy.   Continued...

Danny Meyer, restaurateur and the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group speaks during an interview on CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange October 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid