Restaurant mogul Danny Meyer “spearheaded” a conspiracy to eliminate tipping and boost prices in violation of antitrust laws, according to a new lawsuit.
The proposed class action, filed in California federal court, names Meyer and a number of top restaurateurs including Tom Colicchio of Craft and Momofuku creator David Chang for being part of an “ongoing conspiracy (that) unlawfully transfers millions of dollars from customers and servers to restaurant owners.”
The plaintiff, Timothy Brown, was a customer at several of the restaurants named in the suit.
The lawsuit slams the restaurants and a “compliant media” for portraying the no-tipping movement as “promoting social justice and equality, while the real aim and effect is greater profit at the expense of workers and consumers.”
Brown alleges that Meyer and his peers have eliminated tipping to raise menu prices and pad their own pockets without violating antitrust laws that prohibit unfair competitive business practices.
But Meyer, who started his empire with the Union Square Café more than 30 years ago and created the popular Shake Shack chain, has maintained that his decision to end tipping has made his restaurants a more fair workplace — especially for kitchen workers.
“They don’t get any of it,” Meyer said in an interview that aired on “60 Minutes” this weekend. “And what I noticed after being a restaurateur for 30 years is that the growing disparity between what you can make in the dining room where tipping exists, and what you can make in the kitchen ... the disparity had grown by 300 percent.”
The lawsuit, using transcripts from media interviews and social media posts, notes restaurants around the country have followed Meyer’s lead. It points out Meyer spoke about the issue in 2015 during several meetings and town halls with other food industry leaders.
He has since eliminated tipping -- dubbed “hospitality included” -- at several of his restaurants, including the Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.
“I’ve never been prouder of taking a path we think is the right thing,” Meyer said Wednesday when asked about the lawsuit during an interview on WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show.”
A statement from Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group said introducing the no-tipping concept was a “challenging and lonely journey.”
“We believe hospitality can and should be a viable career with competitive wages, and we are more committed than ever to Hospitality Included getting us there,” the statement read.