As part of an increasingly popular dining trend, restaurateur Danny Meyer said Wednesday he would eliminate tipping at all of his city locations, starting with The Modern.
Meyer, in a letter sent out by his Union Square Hospitality Group, said he will do away with tipping for food, the bar, and the coat check in every one of his 13 restaurants.
In order to make it happen, Meyer will raise the cost of food slightly, according to Eater, which first reported the story.
"There are countless laws and regulations that determine which positions in a restaurant may, and may not share in gratuities," Meyer wrote in the letter. "We believe hospitality is a team sport, and that it takes an entire team to provide you with the experiences you have come to expect from us. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues -- our cooks, reservationists, and dishwashers to name a few -- aren't able to share in our guests' generosity, even though their contributions are just as vital to the outcome of your experience at one of our restaurants."
The Modern, which sits inside the Museum of Modern Art, will be the first to make the change in early November. The rest -- which include Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, and Blue Smoke -- will follow throughout the next year.
"The average person is going to do the math and say I was going to pay A plus B anyway," Meyer told Eater. "In our case, it's going to be A plus B plus C, because in addition to the 20% you would've tipped, we're also trying to right what has been a labor of wrong, and that's going to cost a couple more points on top of that.
According to Eater, diners at The Modern will likely see an increase of 21 to 25%, or about $170 for the tasting menu. The new starting salary will be at least $11 per hour for back-of-the-house staffers, $14 per hour for cooks, $9 per hour for dining-room staff (like waiters and bartenders).
Meyer will hold a town-hall meeting to get feedback on Nov. 2.
"We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally," Meyer wrote in the letter. "And by eliminating tipping, our employees who want to grow financially and professionally will be able to earn those opportunities based on the merit of their work."
Andrew Rigie, the executive director for the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said Meyer's move, and citywide notoriety, could prove the catalyst for others to follow in his footsteps.
"Tipping is ingrained in the American culture and the operation of the restaurant industry. Any industrywide change will take years and years," Rigie said. "But as more high profile restaurateurs, as they change tipping policies, more people will pay attention."
But Rigie cautioned that the restaurant industry in the city is "very diverse," so what works for a Michelin-star restaurant in Manhattan may not work for a diner in, say, Jackson Heights.
Meyer is not the first to eliminate tipping, however. Thomas Keller first did it in 2005 with his restaurant Per Se, according to Eater. Several other high-end restaurants, including the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare and Dirt Candy have jumped on board.
On Wednesday, diners at Union Square Cafe were mainly happy with the new policy, but voiced a few concerns. Illinois resident Brandi Vance, 20, said an increase in prices didn't bother her.
"I would like to see that policy for everybody. If that means I pay a little more, that's acceptable," said Vance, who was visiting the city for the first time. "Either way you're going to pay extra anyway. This way you know it will be accepted by the worker."
Crown Heights resident Jesse Brown, who was nearby the restaurant, wasn't against the concept, but worried about being able to ensure the staff is really getting the money from increased prices.
"Nothing will be posted, there's no transparency," said Brown, 32, a grad student, but added: "Someone's got to do something because the income inequality in the city is not going to blow over."
(With Ivan Pereira)