Atelier Crenn, one of San Francisco's most intricate and lauded restaurants, is doing away with its service charge, shifting to a European-style all-inclusive model effective February 1. Accordingly, the cost of dinner will rise to $298 per person (tax excluded).
The tasting is currently $220, with a 20 percent "guest experience charge" bringing that number up to $264. So guests will end up paying $34 more under the new model.
Chef Dominique Crenn says that the restaurant has been going in this direction for quite a while, following last year's addition of an automatic 20 percent service charge. "Because we are fine dining, we want guests to know what they are paying for," said Crenn. "We want to bring the experience to the next level." That includes a cadre of highly trained front- and back-of-the house staff, whom Crenn envisions working seamlessly together. "It's a more interactive experience," she said. "The people that work here are very, very knowledgeable and it's important to reward them in that way. This way you can also grow in the company. They're not 'servers' anymore, they're a full part of Atelier Crenn and the experience." Moving to the service-included model will doubly ensure that, in addition to career growth, the restaurant can provide full benefits and wages to every employee.
"I think when you come to a place like Atelier Crenn, you know what you're paying for. If you want to leave more you can, but the experience is all included."
Additionally, Crenn says that since chef de cuisine Rodney Wages (Saison, Benu) joined the team in 2015, the menu has evolved drastically. Alongside pastry chef Juan Contreras, general manager Suzanne Roberts (Mina Group) and sommelier Matt Montrose (Manresa), Crenn says this is the best team she's ever worked with, in the five years since the restaurant opened. And, says Crenn, it was important to integrate the kitchen into the service, which is evidenced by Wages' frequent trips into the dining room at Atelier Crenn to deliver and explain dishes to guests. "I want everyone to be more involved, whether you're front of the house or back of the house, so this [price increase] makes us equal. It's the Danny Meyer snowball effect," said Crenn, referring to the New York restaurateur's decision to eliminate tipping at all of his restaurants across the board. (Check out Eater NY's comprehensive explainer here.)
The new price arrives way ahead of San Francisco's next minimum wage increase, which is scheduled to reach $13 on July 1, 2016, and will likely bring higher prices to restaurants across all levels of dining. Says Crenn, "Instead of $12.25 per hour plus service charge or tips, we can go from $25 to $40 an hour. It's high for us but I think the experience is more well rounded, and everyone is on the same page. It's not just front and back, it's one team."