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How Restaurateurs in Rhode Island Are Making No Tipping Work

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The debate goes on

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The no-tipping movement suffered a major blow when Joe's Crab Shack, the first national chain to eliminate tipping, announced last week it will reinstitute a tipping policy after months of increasing labor expenses and decreasing customer counts.

But the zero-gratuity model is proving successful for some restaurants, including one in Providence, Rhode Island: After three months of no-tipping at Rosmarin and Tarragon Bar at Hotel Providence, owner Alethia Mariotta says the model benefits employees and customers alike, NBC10 News reports. "There are no arguments or hard feelings about who gets scheduled on a Monday, who gets scheduled on a Friday," Mariotta says. "Who has a lunch shift as opposed to a dinner shift? Who has a particular table?"

"It does cost more, but I think in the long term it costs less because we have lower turnover," Mariotta told NBC10. "We have happier staff." The Rhode Island tipped minimum wage is $3.39 an hour; under the no-tipping model, Rosmarin employees currently earn at least $10 an hour. One line cook says he now earns $12 an hour, a $3 raise over his wages during Rosmarin's tipping days.

The restaurant switched to a no-tipping service model in February, and started out with a 22 percent administrative fee per table. They've since eliminated that fee, instead raising menu prices across the board (which is the same route that restaurateur and no-tipping pioneer Danny Meyer has chosen to go at his NYC restaurants).

And while the no-tipping movement has yet to really go mainstream anywhere, other restaurateurs in Providence are thinking it over: James Mark, owner of three-year-old restaurant North, says he hopes to eventually adopt a zero-gratuity model, saying, "Like many folks, I personally believe that tipping is an outdated system that creates strange unspoken power struggles within the restaurant between guests and front of house employees." It may take him some time to figure out how to make such a system work for North, however: "Our biggest hurdle is that our front of house employees would need to be paid $20 to $30 an hour to make what they currently do, which is approximately ten times the state's current tipped minimum wage," Mark says. "Prices would have to go up significantly in order to accommodate that."

Rosmarin's owner did not speak to customer counts and satisfaction, which were both major challenges Joe's Crab Shack cited in its decision to revert to tipping. Of course, Rosmarin's prices are notably higher than Joe's, with large plates averaging around $45 before prices were raised. It seems diners who are already used to footing a higher bill may be more willing to pay the higher upfront prices associated with a no-tipping policy.