A Bold Move on Tipping


While planners are tasked with carefully budgeting for the meetings and events they handle, there’s always been one unknown: the amount attendees opt to tip for service in hotels, restaurants and even taxis on their trip. Most tips get added onto credit card receipts and then subsequently included in expense reports for reimbursement.

The normal order of things was upended a bit this week when a popular and successful Manhattan-based restaurant group announced it was eliminating tipping, setting tongues wagging in food and hospitality circles. No longer will there be a line for tips on credit card chits, and diners will be discouraged from leaving cash, including for the coat check and at the bar.

Instead, the restaurant will raise the prices it charges for food and drink across the board roughly the same percentage it feels people would leave in tips, meaning the total cost of the meal to the customer will be about the same. It’s not clear at this point how steep an increase diners can expect on the food and beverage bill (15 percent? 18 percent? 20 percent or more?)

The 13 restaurants involved are part of the Union Square Hospitality Group, led by such well-reviewed, upscale establishments as Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café and The Modern. Two of the 13—Maialino and Marta—are located in hotels (Gramercy Park Hotel and The Martha Washington, respectively.)

The company’s rationale behind the move is that the current system is unfair. It rewards servers, but not people like cooks, reservation takers and even dishwashers, who the company feels contribute to the success of the dining experience, but are mostly invisible to the customer. Using the added revenue, the company feels it can reward all these employees more equitably.

It’s a noble sentiment and onlookers will be waiting to see if Union Square’s bold move catches on with other restaurants in New York and elsewhere. Tipping is a fairly ingrained practice in the U.S., for even basic service and even more so when the service is considered special in some way. Outside the U.S. (Europe, for example), the tradition is the opposite and diners rarely tip and, if they do, it’s a token amount.

Despite Union Square’s best intentions, could the new policy backfire and make servers less motivated to provide that extra effort that can make the restaurant experience truly memorable? Only time will tell.

For planners managing meetings and events onsite at hotels, tipping hourly workers is the norm, whether that be the doorman hailing you a taxi or room service associate delivering breakfast to your room.

Certainly, the fellow who tracks down a must-have, missing package misplaced in the storage room or the limo driver who waits hours at the airport to pick up a VIP coming in on a delayed flight deserve to be recognized. And a healthy tip always seemed the best way to do it.


Photos: Shutterstock


Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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