Atelier Crenn, one of San Francisco's most expensive and best-reviewed restaurants, has become the latest American culinary establishment to eliminate the need for tipping. Starting this week, the two-Michelin-starred venue will levy a 20 percent "guest experience" tax on all checks. Any additional gratuity will be optional, but not expected.
Chef Dominique Crenn tells Eater she'll post the following language on her restaurant's website to explain the fee: "A 20% guest experience charge will be included in your bill to help contribute to the costs of providing benefits to our employees and is shared by the entire staff." That means the fee will let Crenn more fairly compensate her cooks and other back-of-the-house staff with the money that would, if classified as gratuities, have been required to go to tipped front-of-the-house staff like waiters, runners and bussers.
Crenn's new tipping policy, which the San Francisco Chronicle also reported on, accompanies the venue's move to a single 18-course tasting menu at $220, making it San Francisco's second most expensive restaurant after Saison. Guests can also opt for an extra 4-5 courses on certain nights for an additional $150, the same price as the restaurant's wine pairing. A prestige wine pairing is also available for $300.
The move to a single, more expensive menu should help Crenn improve profitability, which is all the more important for San Francisco restaurants as the city's minimum wage increases over the next few years, against the objections of restaurateurs. That hourly rate, which rose to $11.01 on January 1st, will increase again to $12.25 in May and will steadily move up to $15 by 2018. Translation: Expect to see across-the-board price hikes at virtually every local restaurant over the next few years.
But Crenn says the change to a single menu isn't just about profitability, it's also about "improving the experience of the guest" and providing a singular experience. "For fine dining, I think it's very important to have one menu."
Crenn, incidentally, now joins Daniel Patterson's Coi, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and Thomas Keller's The French Laundry in Yountville as the most high-profile and (high-end) restaurants in the Bay Area to sideline tipping. But keep in mind that while Crenn, Coi and Panisse have eliminated the need to tip through service charges, ranging from 17-20 percent, the Laundry does so though a European-style service-included policy where all prices are higher, to reflect the cost of providing full benefits and wages to its employees. Crenn says she prefers levying the "guest experience" fee over service-included model for transparency reasons. "The breakdown is easier to understand," she says. "It's about transparency and knowing exactly where things go."
With the change in Atelier Crenn's tipping model, Crenn says waiters will probably continue making about the same wage (up to around $15/hr), while back-of-the-house employees will see their compensation rise "substantially" from their current base salaries, which hover in the $38-$40K range.
It's possible more San Francisco restaurants will eliminate tipping in the coming months and years to better cope with local regulations. California lacks a tip credit, which means waiters there earn the full minimum wage, plus gratuities, instead of the tipped minimum, which can fall to $2.13/hour in Texas, New Jersey, and elsewhere. And since one can't redistribute tips to cooks and other back-of-the-house employees, California's waiters can earn many times more than their kitchen counterparts in states with a lower tipped minimum.
This is all the more true in San Francisco, where a voter-approved bill in November gave the city the country's highest minimum wage. While that's a boon to the financial welfare of everyone working in a given restaurant, it will act as a further tax on restaurateurs, making them pay out higher wages without giving them the freedom to end the pay disparity between the two groups. By adding a service charge or by going service-included, restaurants can better redistribute the money that would have went towards tipping.
Nationally, the anti-tipping movement has been gaining steam. In New York, Amanda Cohen's new Dirt Candy will levy an administrative fee of around 20 percent in lieu of voluntary gratuities, while in San Francisco's Mission, Patterson's forthcoming Aster is planning to go service-included. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's Girard recently opened with a service-included menu, while Pittsburgh's Bar Marco will try to ban tipping not by raising prices, but simply by increasing their nightly business.