Have we reached the (non-)tipping point? A restaurant in Pittsburgh seems to think so. Bar Marco recently announced that starting in April, they won’t be accepting any gratuities. Instead, their employees will all get a salary of $35,000 that comes with full health benefits and 500 shares in the restaurant to become part owners. The shares are originally worth $1 each when they vest (after three months) and the value increases from there. In contrast, most restaurant servers in Pennsylvania get minimum wage ($2.83 for tipped workers) plus their tips. Welcome to the new age?
This isn’t news to Europeans. Most servers in the restaurant mecca of France thrive as salaried employees. In fact, many non-Americans bristle at having to tip in American restaurants — and, conversely, many American servers complain loudly about the tipping practices of foreign visitors. Quite honestly, American Tip Culture is out of control. I’ve touched on it before in regards to tipping at hotels and the response was overwhelming. Restaurants in the US have gone as far as throwing automatic service charges on bills for customers and there’s even a restaurant in LA (Alimento) that recently added an additional tip line if you feel like tipping the cooks in addition to your waiter. That’s absolutely nuts in my opinion.
What Bar Marco is doing is to be commended. They realized that servers, by and large, can’t survive on their tips alone. In California, servers get a regular minimum wage of $9 plus tips, so they’re doing pretty well, but servers in the rest of the country aren’t quite as lucky. Many of them work less than a full work week, which means no health care from their employer, and they don’t have a consistent idea of how much they’ll make from week to week. Restaurants get slow for all kinds of reasons: weather affects business, there’s a big football game, it’s the new year and people are trying to eat healthy. All kinds of other factors are at play in the financial health of a restaurant and that affects their employees. I should know. I worked in restaurants from the day I turned 14 all the way through college. My tips could vary from $40 to $150 based on the night and I had no way to control it. By offering a salary, Bar Marco is giving their employees stability and that’s wonderful.
They’re also making an investment in the long-term future of the restaurant. Restaurant jobs have a ridiculously high turnover rate. By offering a salary and a regular work week — employees at Bar Marco work 40-44 hours a week with one night and two days off (note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday, so everyone gets that as another day off) along with 10 paid vacation days — the owners are sending a clear message that working at their place is a career, not just a temp job. That hopefully means employees will be in it for the long haul and be much more loyal to their place of employment.
I love this move. I hope it catches on with restaurants all over America. Why put the onus on the diner to pay the server when their employees of the restaurant? Good service should be expected and if a server isn’t good, they should be fired like all other under-performing employees are. For too long restaurants have gotten away with passing the bill onto customers and I’m happy to see that Bar Marco is taking the lead by taking care of their employees.