On Tipping, Danny Meyer and Foxes

On Tipping and Danny Meyer – and Foxes


by Robert McGarvey




When the fox tells you your idea for improving the lot of the chickens is a bad idea, that in fact it will make their lives worse, you have to know that you are heading in the right direction.

That’s how I feel when I hear the chorus of attacks on restaurateur Danny Meyer’s war on tipping which he in fact has now called “socialist.”

As for why Meyer wants to eliminate tips, he told CNBC this: “The tipping system is actually antithetical to creating a profession for people who really take their jobs seriously. You don’t tip your doctor if they do a good job; you don’t tip the airline pilot if the plane actually lands.”

Tipping, he added, is “demeaning.”

It’s not just Meyer. Most thoughtful people who have contemplated tipping have concluded it is a bad idea that fosters bad service.

Restaurateur Jay Porter in a Slate article said: “When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved, probably because our cooks were being paid more and didn’t feel taken for granted. In turn, business improved, and within a couple of months, our server team was making more money than it had under the tipped system. The quality of our service also improved. In my observation, however, that wasn’t mainly because the servers were making more money (although that helped, too). Instead, our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service.”

Who is attacking also is interesting. It rarely is restaurant workersmost would take a job at a Danny Meyer restaurant in a heartbeat because Danny is known for treating his people well, in a business that generally treats them like disposable parts.

It also is not usually from Meyer’s fine dining competitors.  Most of them are probably mulling a similar policy anyway.

It definitely is not from people who know European restaurants because where I have dined on the Continent, generally service is included – and additional tips, such as they are, might be a Euro or two.  

And yet we hear that service will plummet in US restaurants if tipping is ended – and the irony is that the loudest voices chanting this are smalltime restaurant owner-operators.  The irony of course is you’d think managing service would be essential part of the ownership job but these owners, apparently, want to outsource waiter motivation to diners.

That is a ridiculous abdication of responsibility.

Besides, it does not work now and won’t work tomorrow.

Let me ask you this: when was the last time you were wowed by restaurant service, really blown away? I cannot remember the last time I was. Actually I can. It was maybe six years ago at Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. There were also really good times at Babbo, Del Posto, a few others. But I can count such nights on a pair of hands.

Mind you, I also cannot recall a time when the service was so horrendous that I wanted to stiff the server.  Usually it just is what it is. Adequate. Satisfactory.

Why cannot that be simply part of the meal experience – without the absurd dance of the tip at meal’s end.

Meyer — who incidentally is also taking on the challenge of making airline food edible in a deal with Delta, showing he is unafraid of La Mancha moments  – is saying it can and should be.

Some say waiter morale will plummet but, really….  Meyer, for instance, is raising wages and also menu prices (which went up 20+% at the Modern in Manhattan for instance).  What’s a waiter not to like?

Meyer also called tipping “socialist” – and, he explained, in most fine dining establishments tips are pooled and shared by servers.  Give Suzie a 100% tip on your birthday dinner because you want to share your wealth – and probably she will throw that generous tip into the pot and all will share equally.

So exactly how did your tip in fact directly reward good service?

The more I mull on the opposition to Meyer, the more I think a large part just is inertia, we all resist just about any change and in the case of US fine dining, we have lifetimes of calculating 15% or 20% at meal’s end and we are good at the math.

We just don’t want to change.

So why do some restaurant owners resist this? My guess is that causes are two-fold.  (a) They really do not know how to motivate their wait staff and they are hoping we, the diners, can do it for them.  (b) They already are getting pushback on too high prices at their tables and they are afraid that if they raise the tabs 20% diners will stay home.

They may be right about (b) – but that is their problem. It isn’t mine and it most certainly should not be the problem of the waiters and waitresses.

Rather than criticizing Meyer they might focus on motivating their own staff and impressing diners with the value for dollar of their offerings.

I suppose it’s easier for them to gnash their teeth than it is to address structural failings in their businesses.

I stand with Meyer on this.  Tipping makes no sense. It’s time to put a stop to it.  Now.

6 thoughts on “On Tipping, Danny Meyer and Foxes”

  1. “switched from tipping to a service charge”….so how is this good? How about build the right prices into your menu and charge that? Saying something is $10 plus a service charge is actually $11.50 if it is a 15% “service charge.

    Tipping should have never become a replacement for wages. So what do I do if I get horrible service and there is a “service charge”?

    1. You complain to the manager.

      I agree that the idea of separating a mandatory service charge from the meal price is silly – but then again, so are mandatory “resort fees” and “amenity fees” that hotels in some areas charge. But as long as all are disclosed properly, it’s just silly, not misleading.

      1. Well, I don’t like resort fees or amenity fees either. “Resort fees” are often written down as for things that you don’t want or need, so they aren’t the same. Furthermore, although in Miami, where they generally have a 15% service charge (where I went anyway), the service was pretty good, whereas at Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where they charge an 18% surcharge on groups of 6 or more..at a buffet, the service was horrible.

        It should be like at McDonald’s, you pay the price on the menu and any tax that’s additionally customary (although many countries include the tax such as in the UK). Furthermore, the service charge, just like a tip, becomes especially unrealistic if you are buying overpriced wine with the meal.

  2. I agree, EXCEPT that until all restaurants go to a service charge, the service charge and a no-tipping policy should be prominently noted on the menu or a sign clear to everyone before they order. And if you use a credit card to pay, the chit you sign should not have a space for a tip. A fancy restaurant in LA does not disclose the 18% service charge until they bring you the bill, so their menu has fraudulent prices.

  3. The dance around tipping, at least in NYC, is anxiety-ridden. First, the diner has to concern him/herself with appearance because the waiter sizes you up by your threads, celebrity or social stature. Secondly, if the service is dreadful, you cannot really not leave a tip because you know you’re actually cheating an employee out of his wages. Lastly, heaven help you if you don’t! You are then interrogated by management and basically banned for life. (I happen to be an over-tipper: it’s simply a compulsion). I hate tipping. And it is a demeaning experience for all sides

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *