Last week, Renee Erickson announced that starting next Monday, The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Whale Wins, and Barnacle will no longer accept tips. In their stead, she said the restaurants will add an 18.5 percent service fee to checks that will be shared between front- and back-of-the-house employees. Erickson's is the third major move by a Seattle restaurateur since our new minimum wage law went into effect April 1, following Ivar's decision to raise wages to $15/hour and cut tipping, and Tom Douglas's addition (then deletion) of a 2 percent surcharge.
What Erickson did not announce in her original press release, however, was that also beginning May 4, all front-and back-of-house workers—including servers, cooks, and dishwashers—in these three restaurants will make a base pay of at least $15 per hour, and will also receive a bonus based on daily sales and hours worked.
Per The Stranger: "For Erickson, the move has less to do with the city's new minimum wage and more to do with addressing the income disparity that exists between back-of-house and front-of-house workers, the latter of whom commonly make two to three times as much as as their colleagues.
"'The industry needs to evolve,' says Erickson. 'The system we've adopted in America favors the front of the house in financial value, and that's really not fair—at least we don't believe it to be. We're taking that 18.5 percent [service charge] and redistributing it to everyone in a system that we've come up with. Back of house is still not making as much, but it's better. It's moving in the right direction.'"
Erickson's business partner Jeremy Price also told The Stranger it was the staff that pushed for the service charge, concerned about having to explain higher menu prices to guests each night. Read their full coverage, with elaboration by Erickson and Price, here.