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The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the Chicago hotel industry and across the country for more than a year. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. According to figures, the state lost 216,500 hospitality jobs between January 2020 and January 2021.
During this economic uncertainty, restaurant operators reassessed their business models while workers called for change. Fueled by the energy of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, workers began to speak out on workplace issues. Amid these concerns in Chicago, the upheaval has revived a problem that was there hotly contested in the restaurant world: Tip.
One recently tribune The story has fueled the online debate as the topic generates a wide variety of opinions within the service industry. Last year, the owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a counter-service restaurant that shut down years ago, made good intentions Instagram post about tip racist and sexist origin. However, given the tension created by the pandemic, there has been a wave of discussion and backlash on the internet. Some doubted the sincerity of the owners Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski. Others falsely claimed that the removal of the tip provides protection for unscrupulous owners to divert money from newly created service fees into their own pockets. A myth immortalized by restaurant lobbyists.
The US restaurant industry has long relied on a tip credit system that allows owners to use tips from servers to fill the g between a worker’s base salary (often referred to as the minimum wage) and the standard statutory wage. Many restaurant owners have argued that changing this system would be too costly, forcing them to raise prices to an extent that diners would not accept. Some also voice concerns that without the incentive of tipping, service quality would decline.
However, local restaurant owners who made the switch say none of these scenarios occurred. Chef Paul Fehribach is part of one growing group of local restaurateurs who have eliminated tips. Fehribach runs Big Jones in Andersonville, a nationally known restaurant in the south that ended with a tip in June 2020. He added a 10 percent surcharge for online take-away meals and a 20 percent surcharge for dinner meals. This allows him to pay servers $ 18-25. While he is motivated by the ability to pay his employees a living wage, the tip debate comes to power for Fehribach.
„I think the biggest problem with tips for me is the power that a customer has over one of my employees,” says Fehribach. “It is a power that is not appropriate in any other business. I don’t know why it is appropriate in the restaurant business. „
This dynamic creates an environment for workers that can be abused by both employers and customers, says Fehribach, citing the recent example of Tank Noodle, an uptown Vietnamese restaurant that allegedly stole wages and illegally stole workers’ tips. He believes that American restaurant culture promotes a submissive form of service that customers can use Treat employees as less worthy than themselves, dangling tips as a promise and a threat.
Fehribach has been following the tips of his servers along with other metrics since 2015 and says that these numbers often do not reflect the performance of an employee in the dining room – especially if that server is a woman, a black or indigenous colored person or is perceived as LGBTQ.
The dynamic is different for traditional table-service restaurants like Big Jones and casual counters like Honey Butter and Middle Brow’s Bungalow in Logan Square. Middle Brow co-owner Pete Ternes has slowly turned his restaurant into a no-tip model over the years.
“With tips, you can be confident that customers are paying for your labor costs effectively,” says Ternes. “It’s a little bit backward: like in any other industry in the damn world, we should include labor costs in our product. If everyone did that, we’d have to come up with a business plan for it. ”
Ternes had originally planned to open Middle Brow, a pizza place and brewery, without tipping, but changed his mind at the last minute over concerns about how customers and employees would react. Middle Brow has since added a service charge of 20 percent for takeaway orders, 15 percent for locally made items, and 10 percent for groceries. Despite initial concerns about a setback, Ternes was pleased to find virtually no negative reactions from customers or employees. Instead, its employees can now focus on working as a team instead of worrying about whether the system is fair or not.
The operator mentality always comes from a customer’s point of view, says Ty Fujimura. Fujimura has several restaurants with different service models, some with table service, some with counters: the sushi place Arami in West Town, the small bar on Logan Square and the Michelin-starred restaurant Entente.
He supports raising the minimum wage and includes an optional 2 percent surcharge to cover employee health insurance, but says he will never ask for a tip in the form of a service fee. He also says he did not observe any Ag in tips based on race or ethnicity in his restaurants.
„[Tipping] is one of those customs that we know to be imperfect, but to some extent only part of the experience, ”he says.
He adds, „I don’t think tipping will ever be a perfect science.”
- Critics call tips unfair and archaic. The pandemic is encouraging Chicago restaurants to try to end the practice [Tribune]
- Tip not included (yet) [Eater]
- The tipping case in America [Eater]
- The Racist History of Tips [Politico]
- These Chicago chefs support price hikes when the minimum wage goes up [ECHI]