The Public Option is a new brewpub that will be open in Washington, DC by late summer or early fall. But according to the Washington City Paper, it will also be unique: it will ban customers from tipping and instead simply pay its workers a living wage.
Owner Bill Perry will pay workers at least $15 an hour and put notes on tables and the website explaining that waitstaff won’t accept tips. If anyone still leaves tips on the table, the staff will decide on a charity to donate it to.
“We are uncomfortable with the dynamic that is created by tipping,” Perry told the paper. “We may end up crashing and burning, but we’re going to give it a try.”
A few restaurants around the country have done similar things, telling customers not to tip and instead just compensating workers well. At Sushi Yasuda, an upscale sushi restaurant in New York City, bills come with a note instead of a line for a tip: “Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda’s service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted.” They not only get better pay but vacation days, sick leave, and health insurance. Other high-end restaurants in the city have also banned tipping in favor of better pay.
And one restaurant founder who did so on the West Coast said that after he banned tipping, instead levying a flat 18 percent charge on all checks for service, “Our service improved, our revenue went up, and both our business and our employees made more money,” he says.
But The Public Option may be one of the few operations to get rid of tipping that doesn’t cater to a high-end clientele.
Perry’s fears of a poor dynamic created by the custom of tipping waitstaff is grounded in research. It often perpetuates racism and sexism, as attractive women make better tips and white servers make more than black ones, despite similar service. Meanwhile, while customers think that the tipping system can lead to better service, the two are basically unrelated: customers’ perception of service accounts for just a percentage point or so in the difference between different tips they leave.
And workers rely on these tips for their livelihoods. The minimum wage for those who earn gratuities is just $2.13 an hour, and while restaurant owners are supposed to make up the difference if tips don’t bring their wages to the $7.25 minimum wage everyone else works for, many of them don’t. Meanwhile, a new survey from vouchercloud found that while 20 percent is considered a typical tip, three-quarters of restaurant goers say they tip less than that, with 11 percent leaving nothing at all. Little wonder that the poverty rate for restaurant workers is nearly triple that of everyone else.