January 18, 2016

To Tip or Not To Tip? A Change In Culinary Payment Models

Tipping chefs has become an increasingly popular option at restaurants across the U.S.

Tipping chefs has become an increasingly popular option at restaurants across the U.S.

Unlike many other occupations, wait staff at restaurants across the U.S. rely on tips for the bulk of their income. Though not mandatory, tipping has become an integral part of the dining experience, so much so that there are now throngs of websites dedicated to proper etiquette.

In recent years, another trend has emerged: tipping chefs. Many in the restaurant business are coming out in favor of this move, celebrating it as a way of spreading the wealth among restaurant staff. Meanwhile, others find tipping to be the wrong approach to building the best possible dining experience. If nothing else, this argument will no doubt help to shape the culinary industry in the years to come.

“Tipping chefs is a way to offer competitive wages without raising prices.”

Tipping is good for business
In explaining why chefs should be tipped, The Thrillist outlined several key arguments. For one, chefs are a major part of every culinary experience, and if waiters are tipped for facilitating customer service, then so too should chefs for preparing the actual food. By tipping graciously,  patrons can then expect improved meal service, as chefs now have another form of motivation to deliver every single evening. And by allowing chefs to accept tips, restaurant owners are showing how important every staff member is, which can go a long way to bolstering morale. Among its arguments, The Thrillist mentioned that some younger chefs might need tips to supplement their income as they make their way up the culinary ladder.

Just recently, head chef Zach Pollack implemented tips for chef at his restaurant Alimento in Los Angeles. Speaking with Eater, he said that patrons now have the option to leave a tip on a second line in the final bill. For Pollack, it was a way to pay two of his cooks competitive wages without raising prices for customers. While he explained that this new endeavor may not make anyone wealthy, it will go a long way to fixing the broken tipping system that dominates most American restaurants. Pollack mentioned that he originally considered a 20 percent service fee – to be used at the restaurant’s discretion – but felt that move wasn’t transparent enough for customers.

“For many owners, tipping doesn’t make sense economically.”

Tipping isn’t realistic enough
David Chang is something of a star of the New York culinary scene, having opened both Momofuku and Nishi in recent years. In an interview on his company’s website, Chang recently announced that he is banning tipping at the Chelsea-based Nishi. For Chang, tipping simply doesn’t make sense economically, for both himself as an owner and staff members. Instead, he’s going to simply pay his staff, from dishwashers to cooks, a living wage. That means raising prices, but the policy will help customers see the amount of effort that goes into each dish. Chang added that he’s trying to invest in people rather than a business, and if this no-tipping model doesn’t work, he can return to the old way in no time.

Other restaurants are already following suit. Speaking with Eater, owner Scott Dolich said that both of his establishments, Bent Brick and Park Kitchen, will operate tip-free by early 2016. Not only that, but he’s consolidating staff, and soon employees will serve dual roles of chef and waiter. By combing the jobs, Dolich says he can create a more sustainable work environment, one where people work consistently and have health benefits. To pay for all this, both eateries will increase menu prices by 18 percent. However, Dolich added that with the new dining experience, most customers shouldn’t notice anything’s changed beside the post-meal tip calculation.

Where do you stand on the issue of tipping? If you’re still enrolled in culinary academy, it’s important to take a stand either way, as it’s part of your very livelihood.