Bay Area restaurants from high-end (Benu, Coi, Atelier Crenn) to casual (Trou Normand, Camino, Aster) have been taking the leap, and now San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer is putting his weight behind them: "It's time for tips to make a graceful exit." In an editorial this morning for the Chron, Bauer argues that "a new tipping paradigm is forming in the Bay Area, and I'm all for it. It feels good to know the price on the menu is actually the price I'm paying, no calculating necessary. It's civilized—and the wave of the future."
Like many area restaurateurs and commentators, Bauer has borne witness to the potential havoc wrought by the increase in San Francisco and Oakland's minimum wage over the next three years (it'll gradually rise to $15 per hour in SF from now until 2018, and hit $12.25 per hour in Oakland next month). Because the state of California doesn't have a tip credit, allowing restaurateurs to pay servers a lower base wage and make up the rest of the minimum with tips, the new paradigm means that servers and bartenders could end up making three to four times what their back-of-house counterparts make. (Indeed, a recent survey showed that bartenders in SF are the nation's highest-paid, making $11 more per hour than their counterparts in NYC.) As Bauer puts it, "The waiters are compensated even better than they were before. The rest of the crew remains in the shadows. It's such a wide margin between the front and back of the houses that restaurants are trying to figure out ways to deal with the situation fairly and still eke out a profit."
While restaurants have floated solutions ranging from a service charge to a hybrid model, Bauer is of the opinion that the service-included model used at Camino, Bar Agricole, and Trou Normand, among others, is the gold standard. And for those who believe that ending tipping will significantly decrease the quality of service, Bauer disagrees: "An incompetent waiter isn't going to get better by dangling the possibility of a tip in front of her, nor is a surly server going to change his attitude because he knows a tip is coming at the end of the meal. Professional waiters are like good artists, writers and performers—they are driven by an appreciation of what they do. Of course, as in any other profession, compensation should somehow be tied to performance."
Given area restaurants' fear of offending Bauer and the older, largely more hidebound crowd that follows his reviews, this is definitely a sea change, and Bauer knows it, saying that he expects "most places, at least in San Francisco, will probably follow this lead in the next year." With such a major salvo in favor of the tipless model, diners can expect even more Bay Area restaurants to come into the fold in short order.