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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A restaurant group that includes some of Manhattan's most well-regarded dining spots said on Wednesday it will take the potentially revolutionary step in the United States of eliminating tipping.
Influential restaurateur Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group will begin rolling out the new policy in late November, bringing its establishments in line with dining practices in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, where tipping is either non-existent or at most perfunctory.
The company, which employs some 1,800 people at more than a dozen popular hot spots including the Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, said in a statement it arrived at the groundbreaking step "after a thoughtful, company-wide dialogue."
It explained that "countless laws and regulations ... determine which positions in a restaurant may, and may not share in gratuities," with cooks, reservationists and dishwashers left out as a result, despite their vital contributions.
The no-tipping policy will launch at The Modern, a posh restaurant at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, with Union Square's other restaurants including Maialino incorporating the change over the next year.
The group did not specify how staff would be compensated for the loss of tips, saying the total cost of meals "won't differ much from what you pay now. But for our teams the change will be significant. We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally."
Reaction to the move online was swift, and decidedly mixed, with commenters calling it everything from "awesome" and "a godsend" to a "money grab" by owners. But most seemed intrigued by the experiment and were anxious to see how it played out.
A handful of U.S. eateries, most of them high-end such as Manhattan's Per Se and Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, both in northern California, have instituted policies ranging from a mandatory flat percentage service charge to service included, with tips not expressly forbidden.
The change by Meyer's high-profile group could prompt other fine-dining establishments to reconsider tipping, which much of the world considers both puzzling and outdated.
Eater.com, the nationwide online site for foodies, noted that similar moves have been short-lived at other restaurants such as San Francisco's Aster.
It called the move risky, in terms of losing customers put off by higher prices of about 21 to 25 percent initially, and staff resistance.
But the site supported the change, saying tipping is "holding back the American hospitality industry."
Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Eric Beech