One more Toronto restaurateur has joined the no-tipping movement: Bill Sweete, who owns Sidecar and the Toronto Temperance Society, plans to eliminate tipping at his businesses by May 1. “There isn’t a good supply of people wanting to work in kitchens,” explains Sweete. “Maybe restaurateurs had some hand in this—we ask them to work long hours and we don’t pay them very well.” In the last two years, he’s raised kitchen wages a bit, from $13 to $15 an hour, but it wasn’t a fix. That’s because, with gratuities included, the average waiter at Sidecar makes around $27 an hour.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that front-of-house staff aren’t crazy about tips being redistributed. “Waiters think that money is theirs,” says Sweete. “They think that the rocket scientist who carried the food from the kitchen to the table deserves more than the person who cooked it.” So he’s getting rid of tips entirely.
Sweete follows Hemant Bhagwani, who launched Indian Street Food Co. last November. Bhagwani’s tip-free model includes a 12 per cent administration fee added to each bill, combined with an additional 10 per cent of revenue divided amongst employees evenly. But that’s not the approach that Sweete’s taking. Instead, he’s going to increase his menu prices by 15 to 20 per cent, so there’s no change in total cost to the customer—assuming that’s what they would have tipped anyway.
Sweete is adopting a revenue-sharing model from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which is transitioning all 13 of its New York businesses to the practice. Meyer’s company has been helpful, sharing information with Sweete, who contacted them to learn about the model. Sidecar and TTS will have weekly revenue figures, from which all staff will have a percentage added to their hourly wage. There will be three tiers of both FOH and BOH employees, each set at a different percentage level—the exact percentages have yet to be decided. However, funnelling more money to cooks means less for servers, and this will likely result in servers leaving to work for other pro-tipping restaurants. Sweete’s not worried. “If all my employees quit, I’m fine with it.” What Sweete is concerned about is potential sticker shock from the 15 to 20 per cent hike to menu prices. He’s already hearing from some New York restaurateurs that diners are ordering less.
Personally, I don’t like tipping. I think the idea of customers deciding the full price of any service is awful. Should I be able to choose how much to pay my dental hygienist? Should my editor decide if my story’s worth the industry standard only when she’s seen the final draft? It hardly seems fair.
“I really don’t like tipping,” says Sweete. “And I’ve been a waiter my whole life.”