Josh Henderson, man of a million new restaurant openings, is dropping tipping.
Henderson told Eater his group has been thinking about this change for roughly a year, "As a matter of when, not if." He said his restaurant group Huxley Wallace Collective was partially inspired by big restaurateurs like Tom Douglas, who announced a similar move last month.
On the other hand, Henderson explained, he was also "waiting on" the Douglases and Danny Meyers of the restaurant world to make the first move. "There was no need for us to take the lead on that. The larger companies, from a pulpit standpoint, have a much louder voice," he said.
Henderson's process began quietly a couple weeks ago when his new taqueria, Bar Noroeste, opened its doors with this note at the bottom of its menu:
In place of gratuity, a 20% service charge will be added to each bill. 100% of these funds are distributed to our team in the form of wages, benefits, and revenue share. You have many options to dine in this city and we are grateful you chose us.
The rollout continued days ago when American-style brasserie Saint Helens launched with a similar menu addendum. It will continue until all of Henderson's restaurants have switched to an automatic 20% service charge.
The main reason for the change, Henderson said, is to remove subjectivity from employees' wages; long-term, he'd also like equalize wages between front- and back-of-house.
"The whole act of tipping is something we feel from a basic level is, to some degrees, racist, chauvinistic. The customer needs some educating, but I think people would agree it's an unfair way to compensate people. If you explain how that happens, most people would not want to be a part of it," Henderson said. The Washington Post's Wonkblog recently explored tipping's roots in slavery, among other problems.
"Service is predicated on the standards you set as a business."
According to Henderson, the customer response so far has been good: "There's comments on it on Yelp, but nothing we didn't expect. That's the nature of it. it's not going to dissuade us from doing this."
Henderson said the removal of tipping puts the responsibility squarely on the employer as a trainer or coach who needs to compensate employees as well as inspire and incentivize them. "People worry about service suffering, but the reality is when you go anywhere else, service isn't dependent upon a tip. Service is predicated on the standards you set as a business."
As for the customer's ability to show gratitude or dissatisfaction without forking over dollar bills, Henderson looks forward to the return of basic human interactions. "I'm as guilty as the next person — I love to leave somebody a little more if I get good service. But like anything else, you write a letter or take to Yelp, or if you feel that great about service, say 'Thank you' or send a note to the manager. Maybe we'll leave comment cards up front."