This week Meyer is at it again. On Monday night at the Martha Washington Hotel, the restaurateur hosted a “Hospitality Included” town hall where he discussed the reasons behind his new policy and revealed some early takeaways from the implementation of his tipless policy.
First off, the founder of Shake Shack believes the inequality between the back and front of the house has never been worse, saying:
For the first time in my entire career, we have a restaurant, North End Grill, that has more Culinary Institute of America graduates working in the dining room than in the kitchen. The reason why is simple. If you love restaurants, the only way you can afford to live in this city is to serve food rather than cook, you don’t have the luxury of making a choice.
According to reports, Meyer expanded upon this point by arguing great restaurants will only survive if they are able to find a way to increase cooks’ wages. Without well-trained cooks, there simply isn’t enough talent to execute ambitious cooking – an issue explored in-depth in a recent New York Times article.
Another interesting tidbit pulled from the town hall meeting is that Meyer’s decision to move away from a tipping model is already paying dividends:
The policy change won’t take place until later this month, and even then, it will be on a two-month trial period. But cooks are responding. According to Bissell (Chef Abram Bissell of Meyer’s restaurant The Modern), the kitchen was “in crisis” about three months ago because it was short 12 cooks. They were getting just two to three applications per month, but since the announcement, he says, that number has jumped to two or three applications a day.
Yet, with this plan comes a cost to consumers. The New York City restaurateur expects the average check to increase five to eight percent. Higher prices could also cut into the spending patterns of the Union Square Hospitality Group’s customers – making that glass or bottle of wine less affordable. Meyer has a plan to keep his customers drinking as well.
An equally pressing question seems to be: Will diners accept higher prices and the loss of a cultural norm? A new poll out in the New York Post from Quinnipiac University reports 55% of diners currently oppose the tipless model while 36% are in support.
With or without the poll Meyer is committed to his experiment, telling the New York Post:
Tipping has been a longstanding American custom in restaurants, and so was smoking until New York City got rid of it. We’re passionate about doing the right thing for our staff, our guests and our industry.
Only time will tell whether the “right thing” for the industry proves to be equally satisfying for the consumer.