As the debate over the fairness of tipping continues, one of the country's most prominent chefs has moved to implement a policy that only a handful of others have been willing to. Daniel Patterson, who runs the two-Michelin-starred Coi in San Francisco, will eliminate gratuities at his newest restaurant.
At Aster, which Patterson will open in The Mission with chef Brett Cooper, prices will be reflective of tip, as is the case throughout Europe and many other countries throughout the world. That means guests won't see 18 percent gratuity added onto their checks, a policy that has long been the case at Coi. Instead, dishes will cost about 15 percent more than they otherwise would. "We're not going to be wildly above market value," Patterson told Eater yesterday during a phone interview. He expects Aster's "snacks" to start out at around $7or $8, with main courses topping out at around $30-$33. "It's a very normal price range."
What makes Aster different is that it's one of the few affordable restaurants to implement a service-included policy.
This is all more or less the same service-included policy as at The French Laundry in Napa Valley or Per Se in New York, two of America's most expensive restaurants. Sushi Yasuda in New York also famously eliminated tipping in 2013. What makes Aster different is that it's one of the few affordable restaurants to implement a service-included policy.
"At the casual level it seems like a service-charge is polarizing," Patterson said. He implemented a service charge at Plum when it first opened and later abandoned that policy after receiving pushback. The chef thinks eliminating gratuities outright will work better. "This way, price is all inclusive. There's no healthy San Francisco surcharge. There's no tip, there's no service charge. There's just one price," Patterson said.
There won't even be a line at the bottom of the check to leave any "optional gratuity," as is the case at The French Laundry and Per Se.
Tipping is a deeply rooted American custom, and opinions ran strong when five casual Bay Area restaurants announced they replaced that practice with an automatic 20 percent gratuity. "People got very emotional. You want people to be emotional about the food, about the experience, about things that are really meaningful. You don't want them to get emotional about a service charge," Patterson said.
The policy can also help Aster get ahead of a new San Francisco law that will gradually raise the minimum wage of hourly employees to $15 by 2018. "No one can stay in business paying their servers $15 an hour, at the current price point," Patterson said. By implementing a service charge, or by going service-included, restaurants can redistribute the revenue that would have otherwise gone to tips to back-of-the-house employees, like cooks and dishwashers, who often make less than waiters.
Patterson also says that if things go well at Aster, he'll probably go service-included at Alta, one of his other neighborhood spots. "It's much easier to do it in a new place than a place that's existing. Anytime you introduce something new, it's always a shock to the system." Indeed, restaurants that switch to service-included polices risk defections by members of the wait staff, who'll often see their compensation decline with the elimination of tipping.
I think in five years that's how every restaurant in America will be run
"I really do think in five years that's how every restaurant in America will be run," Patterson says. So why hasn't he ditched automatic gratuities at Coi in favor of going service-included? "I want to, but then you get into a real apples to oranges comparison with other restaurants." For example, if Coi advertised its menu price at $235, service-included, instead of $195, it would appear to be more expensive than competing tasting menu venues like Atelier Crenn, whose longest menu is $220 before tip. "Intellectually you know it's the same, but emotionally there's a very different response."