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Does Restaurant Tipping Have a Future?

Last month Bar Marco, a trendy restaurant in the Strip District, announced that they plan to do away with tipping this Spring. There’s been an outpouring of interest, curiosity and praise from all over the country.

Bar Marco Co-Owner Bobby Fry and Events Coordinator Andrew Heffner talk about how they came to this decision and how they plan to make it work.

A no-tipping policy has pros and cons for owners, servers, and customers. Offering their perspectives are Meg Fosque, the National Development Director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), as well as Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh and a member of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

According to Fry, Bar Marco made the decision to discontinue tipping after encountering research that suggested eliminating the practice could help mitigate some of the restaurant’s scheduling concerns. Workers in restaurants and retail environments often face schedule fluctuations that make their financial and personal lives difficult, Fry says. Bar Marco’s plan to cease the tip system involves creating a conventional forty-hour schedule for its employees and paying the kitchen staff the same as the servers: a standard yearly salary of $35,000.

Heffner says that when initial talks about the plan emerged, he was a little unsure about it, but he came to the conclusion that eliminating tipping and moving to a concrete schedule would make his work and income more stable and secure.

“This can set us off so we can all plan better about what we’re doing here. We can invest in this job in a more long-term way,” Heffner explains.

Heffner acknowledges that, at times, the tipping system can be more lucrative than one without tipping, but he sees the tradeoff for greater job security and the ability to contribute to the long-term growth of the business as well worth it.

Joyce says he approaches the idea of getting rid of tipping as a change that could help level the playing field for kitchen staff. Cooks and other kitchen employees, he says, are underpaid in comparison to their server counterparts. On the other hand, he says going to a no-tipping system probably is not a way to save money for patrons; Joyce says he assumes that costs will simply be redistributed if tipping is eliminated.

From her perspective as director of a national organization advocating for restaurant workers, Fosque says that she thinks Fry’s no-tipping model is interesting and has potential to benefit workers. She describes the system of low hourly pay and reliance on gratuities for restaurant employees as a “broken system.” Although Fosque maintains that there needs to be broad policy change to respond to the problems of that “broken system,” she sees the elimination of tipping as a way for restaurants to fix some problems of the system on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis.

Kurt Sampsel has just completed a graduate degree in media and culture at Carnegie Mellon University. For his degree at CMU, he undertook a study of the Federal Communications Commission that attempts to demystify the regulatory agency in the interest of helping average members of the public gain more oversight and control over the media system.
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