Off Menu: Debate Between Tipping and Automatic Gratuity in SF
Off Menu is our tribute to the service industry. It’s where we cover restaurant openings and bar closings, industry rumors and inside dirt. It’s where we cheer on our favorite chefs, servers, and nightlife superheroes. And the best part is, it comes from those of us that live that life, that work in the trenches.
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San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country to live this is nothing new. Will the recent increase in minimum wage make it easier to live in this increasingly affluent city, or conversely will it up the strain on small business owners?
Restaurants are at the forefront of being directly affected by wage increases, as most of their staff are employed on minimum wage. On average, wages account for 30 percent of gross restaurant sales. This increase in minimum wage could significantly cut into an already struggling restaurant. Before you start flying off the handle about the mega-chains, franchises, and big restaurant owners who don’t give a flying-fajita about their employees, we ain’t talking about that, we’re talking about every other restaurant in San Francisco that runs off the smell of an oily rag and still manages to create amazing, inventive, delicious food. That hole in wall pho spot, that pop-up that finally has enough capital to lay down on a space, that up-and-coming chef that put his life savings into San Francisco commercial rent. These are the types of restaurants that will be affected by the wage increase.
So what are they doing?
A few restaurants are throwing tradition to the wind and moving into automatic gratuity, where gratuity is included in the price of menu items. Aster, the new solo project by Brett Cooper on 22nd and Guerrero (Mission) opened the restaurant with the full intention of tips being included in the price. However, after just over a month of being open they have reverted to a more traditional tip structure. Matt Glister, General Manager of the soon to be opened Lord Stanley (Russian Hill) is also set on getting rid of the whole tipping structure, while the final form has yet to be determined they are wanting service to fall in line with a more European style. “We are paying people based on their ability, it will be more career oriented” Glister says he hates going into restaurants where the manager has cut all the floor staff, so one person can make more money, “Its end up being worse overall experience as one person tries to serve fifteen tables.”
Photo from The Chronicle
This is raising debate amongst restaurateurs and the general public. One of the greatest concerns is if tips are automatically included then front of house staff will stop giving a proverbial shit about the guests dining experience. Glister comments, “this won’t happen, the positions will be more incentive focused and hard work will be rewarded by moving up within the company.” This raises yet another fundamentally fucked up moral question. In the American tipping system, a server is at the mercy of a guest who, if they are so inclined to deem the experience not tip worthy, that server forgoes a real income and is back to boxed ramen for the week. The argument that servers will cease to do a good job because gratuity is already included is just ludicrous. A great server will do a great job, regardless of tip, they’re a professional and carry this attitude in their workplace. Conversely a shit server will still be shit, tip or not. It’s not the tip, it’s the person.
The tipping system in the United States is fundamentally flawed on many levels. I understand however, it is culturally entrenched and any moves away from it will create debate. However this recent push towards service included will hope to bring guests, restaurant owners, and employees a more equal dining and wining experience.