Tipping has been a subject of increasing discontent and creativity among Bay Area restaurateurs, particularly as new initiatives to raise the minimum wage have passed in both San Francisco and Oakland. In a bid to cut costs and even out income disparities between the kitchen and waitstaff, restaurateurs from Daniel Patterson to the Bar Agricole/Trou Normand folks have begun adding automatic service charges to their bills, telling diners that the only alternative would be to significantly raise prices.
Now, as Inside Scoop reports, Oakland's Toast Kitchen & Bar has come up with a new "hybrid" tipping system, which they believe provides the best balance in terms of creating pay equity, promoting top-notch service, and keeping prices low for diners. Two weeks ago, owner Heather Sittig Jackson implemented an automatic 15% service charge, but also encouraging diners to tip up to the extra 20% if they receive good service. The 15% goes to the entire service staff (cooks, servers, dishwashers, bussers-- everyone but owners and managers), while the front-of-house alone pockets the remaining 5%.
Sittig tells Inside Scoop that this isn't just an issue of fairness: it will save diners money. The alternative many of her fellow restaurateurs are considering is raising prices 30%, which will affect customers far more. She uses the example of a party spending $40 on brunch: with tax, the service charge and extra 5% tip, the meal would be $52.25, but with tax, a 30% price increase and a traditional tipping system (with good service and a 20% tip assumed), the meal would be $66.84, an increase of $14.59.
To help customers adjust to the change, Sittig's waitstaff have been passing out comment cards with the check. So far, all the reactions have been positive. Could this be the solution that ends up working best for diners, kitchen workers, and waitstaff alike? Only time will tell.