i walked quickly down armitage toward richmond, and before i turned left around a tight brick building, i shouted "corner!". part ii.

i've really wanted to get back into our "how to restaurant" discussion. but haven't had the time to really sit down with all my thoughts. i think what it comes down to is mooches and trade policy. like most other things in my head.

so we had a customer come in the other day and tip $3 on a $40 charge. which is absolutely fucking shameful. and if they're reading it, i want them to know that i'd rather them never come in again than come in again and tip that way. and, frankly, anyone else who tips like that should follow suit. and here's why:

the government has made a decision. their decision is that servers (and various other folks in the service industries) will rely on tips to make a living wage. they're so sure of this decision that they've allowed servers to make a $2.13/hr. yes... they settled on 13 cents as the cents. and anyway. does anyone with any brains aged over 11 think that's a wage that one could afford rent on?


but the government knows that they make lots of money in tips! and that's why they allow employers to pay tipped employees a smaller minimum per hour than the rest of working men and women.

so what's this all mean? i reckon it means this: servers need to be able to earn a living wage. otherwise restaurants wouldn't exist. and dumb ass shit like the alinea-cat cora feud wouldn't be there to entertain us. (wtf? why should any of us care about this? re-fucking-prioritize. stat. i digress. oh wait. also stop pretending like hospitality workers deserve better treatment at restaurants than our working and middle class friends and neighbors. again, i digress.) 

but servers can only learn a iving wage if (1) tips are effectively set in stone or (2) menu prices are much higher so owners can pay their staff more.

let's take (2) 1st: raising prices. if you read our newsletter a few weeks back, you'd've seen that we charge a 3% service fee on every bill. we do this to help pay the kitchen staff a bit more during busy hours. to wit: this money accrues to the back of house at all times, but when we're really busy, and the front of house (servers, bartenders, runners)  makes a lot more money in big tips, back of house doesn't because they're only making an hourly wage and it's illegal for us to add them to the tip pool.

i only bring this up again to give you some context. we've had a few (two?) complaints from people about this upcharge. and a few nice, well-mannered questions about it as well. and in most cases, the complainant-questioneer says "why don't you just pay your staff more?" and i gather, as an outsider, that that's the easiest response to this whole thing. this whole drama 'bout pay disparity 'tween back and front of house restaurant worker pay.

and the answer is: that's a terrible idea! and here's why...

1) the existential problem: if we paid them more without raising prices in a big way, we'd go out of business. 

2) the first-mover problem: if we raised our *menu prices* to make up for the increase in pay, then we'd have the highest pizza and beer prices in town. and customers would flock on away from us. in droves. and quickly. and we'd go out of business.

3) unless we banned tipping outright, this wouldn't solve the issue: customers would still tiddy-dip the front-of-house staff, and on busy nights they'd make way more money than the kitchen. who'd be working just as hard (if not harder). so, can we ban tipping outright? we can! but we'd lose some of the best damn servers in town. who we've been lucky enough to convince to come work for us.

quick aside: our heroes over at honey butter fried chicken have found a model that allows them to ban tipping and raise prices just a bit. we really do look up to them, and aspire to that. but with our current model, that'd be impossible. in the meantime, though, we buy their delicious chicken and sides constantly. and you should too.


so, if we can't raise menu prices without effectively shutting down, what's the alternative to our tipped staff making a wage that's higher than $2.13/hr? tips!

and this is where customers come in. for years, i've heard my friends and family debate whether they should leave 15% or 18% or 20%. and let me tell you why 20% is absolutely necessary. why you should be ashamed of leaving any less.

can i number my ideas again?

1) THE GOVERNMENT PRESUMES THAT YOU'RE DOING THIS! that's why they allow for such a tiny tipped-minimum wage. the stodgy, shitty government. old as fuck. super slow-moving. boring fashion. bad writing government. even they presume that you're tipping your servers well.

2) it's totally customary in this day and age to leave 20%. the vast, vast majority of customers who've come in so far have left 20%, or even a little more. and that's on top of the 3% hospitality fee we charge. it's not on the subtotal. (how bizarre, to get a little pep from the thought that "you don't have to tip on tax". that's wrong. that's way less than customary. most people tip on the full bill.)

3) and what effect do the government's presumption and the general market custom have? they make you responsible for tipping 20%! (or, at least, 18%.) here's the issue... if the government presumes that you're tipping your servers well, and the majority of your friends and family are tipping servers 20%, and you're doing something petty like tipping 15% or something cruel like tipping 8%, then your friends and family are subsidizing your meal. next time you see your best friend, thank her for the nice meal you had at furious spoon the other night! no joke... everyone else is tipping 20%. they're all making it possible for a tiny handful of others to tip poorly.

4) but what if you just can't afford a 20% tip? that's bull shit. d'you get to drive a subaru outback if you can't afford it? if you can't afford the real price of going out to eat—if you can't afford to tip 20%—then you should stay in and cook more. or you should go to chipotle. or simply have a beer or soda when you go out. or you should tell your friends "can we go sutch so i can afford to tip the server properly?" and they'll say *hell yes* if they're anyone worth befriending. (side note: if you're out with a friend who's got a little less than you, you should be the one to offer to go dutch. going rutch makes it possible for that friend to join you at that resto table, which is really all you care about anyway. and if, somehow, the moment gets away from you and suddenly your less-wealthy friend is on a check-split, presume that they'll go a little light on the tip, and make up for it with a little heavier tip.)

5) another point: if you're out with a friend who's flush w cash but a little cheap and you know it, don't hide your tip by folding your receipt over. instead, push it to the center and show everyone your generous tip. you ain't rich cuz you left $1.53 more than your cheap friend who took out her calculator. and you ain't bragging by showing her. she should be shamed into rounding up! her servers are working hard!

6) another point: when you go into less-wealthy neighborhoods and eat at killer ethnic spots, you should really blow it out for the servers there. they work hard as f. and don't get nearly as many wildly generous tips. (hat tip here to my cuz michael hilger.)

7) another point: tipping isn't about quality of service. or, sure, you can tip way more than 20% if you get killer service or treatment. but you shouldn't tip less than 20ish% unless your service is egregiously bad. and here's why that: serving is waaayyy more difficult than it seems. think about it this way, if you sell insurance for a living. how many times a day do you include a typo in your email? or forget to attach a document? how many times a week are you late? how many times a day do you ask your superior a question that you could have easily found the answer to yourself? how many straight up misses do you commit in every power pointless you make? 

do you get paid less every time something goes wrong in your job? or is your basic humanity respected? is it understood that you're a human, and you'll miss things sometimes, and make small mistakes sometimes, and misdescribe a situation sometimes?

don't misunderstand me: serving is a servers *job*. you can't complain that your job is hard. it's just that customers often think serving is easy work. and it ain't. i've worked as a lawyer. an entry-level engineer. a teacher. an oyster farmer. a laborer. and a few other things. and bartending/serving is way more stressful-in-the-moment than any of those. and it takes just as much talent and attention to detail to be a truly terrific server as it takes to be a terrific lawyer. ... laws and codes and shit: that's easy to master. i'm dead serious. but human and group behavior? it's still a fucking mystery to neil degrasse tyson or whatever other famous scientist is about be outed as a serial sexual assaulter. it's way tough for a server to find a way to connect to each and every table, all while rushing through an order and committing things to memory and writing a bunch of shit down and carrying 40 things and cleaning up your spilt beer and asking me to turn the music down for you and then tooting a little bit when they bend over to pick up a fork and hurriedly running away from it cuz who wants to be the server who causes a rank odor in a place where people are eating?


so let's go back to *menu prices*. why did i star it all fancy like up there? because we all know that menu prices are bull shit. when someone says "why don't you just raise your prices?", they're being super disingenuous. restaurant prices are, in truth, *menu prices + tax + tip*. and that's really the crux to all this: the cost of running a restaurant includes labor. and, rather than being borne by customers in the form of higher menu prices,  labor cost is borne by customers in the form of tips. only the government could change this (see first-mover problem above). but the bigger point is you're already paying higher prices. it's just, for some reason, people are more comfortable with the perception (deception?) of lower prices on a menu. even though they shell out 20% every time. 

and one last thing on this "why don't you pay your employees more?" comment: we opened our doors a little over a month ago and already our salaried staff has health insurance. we've hosted *FREE BREAKFAST* once, and are hosting another *FREE BREAKFAST* march 23d. we're building a work training program. we've given away almost $25K in our first 5 years of business to local social justice orgs. (virtually all of our profits.) if it were as simple as charging higher prices and paying our employees better, we'd certainly d be doing just that. but it's more complicated. it's about making sure we get and retain customers. so that our employees HAVE A JOB. 

one last, important point: if you come into our place and simply need a nice place to breathe for awhile, we welcome you with large, open arms. if you can't afford to tip all that much, tell us. i'll gladly lower your base price so that you can tip our servers 20% and still pay no more than the menu price. we aim to take real good care of everyone who walks in the door. ... it's just people who can afford to tip just fine but refuse to do so. those are the people who aren't doing life quite right.


if you're reading this and are a touch offended by it, please feel free to come in for a calm, collected chat in person. i love talking about this stuff. and i'm always very happy to reconsider any of my opinions if you have better, more thoughtful ones. but also know that i don't think bad tippers are unethical people. i just think they're committing a single unethical act, likely because they haven't had time to put much thought into it.

but if you're a serially bad tipper on purpose. and you read this. and it upsets you. and you refuse ever to change. and, as such, ever to come back to our brewpub, then i do have to say: it's better for us to be rid. we're not the right brewery, bakery or pizza place for you.


but this restaurant life is exquisitely grand. we're lucky everyday. and so... we implore you.

no / division

no / division