Are You Ready to Stop Tipping?

Chef Erick Harcey of Victory 44 and Upton 43 talks to Jason DeRusha about his decision to eliminate tipping
Jason DeRusha and Chef Erick Harcey at Upton 43. Photo by Bodega LTD

Welcome to the online companion to the new Minnesota Monthly food section. Jason will be blogging each Thursday, sharing tips on great restaurants that maybe don’t make it into print, thoughts on food trends in town, a list of bests each month (pizzas, coffee shops, cheeseburgers, etc.), and a contest that challenges you to guess where Jason’s eating. Catch Joy Summer’s blog each week for more dining coverage.

Since the late 1800s, tipping has been part of the dining out equation. In this country, “TIP” is an acronym for “To Insure Promptitude.” Some people tip to show off (my friends who want to leave a slightly higher tip than me when we split a bill), some tip to reward great service, and many more tip because that’s the societal expectation.

I find it weird. Why is an employer allowed to hire a professional at minimum wage ($9/hour) and then I’m expected to subsidize the rest of that person’s wages?

I tip 20 percent as a default, and tip more when service is great. I rarely tip less (don’t want to be that cheap TV guy who leaves a bad tip), and I don’t go back to the same restaurant and get the same server often enough to get any tangible benefits from being a good tipper.

So I’m cheering for Chef Erick Harcey at Victory 44 and Upton 43 who’s going without tipping. Yes, that means a burger at Victory 44 now costs $17—a 21 percent increase from the $14 rate most of us remember. Originally, he raised it to just $15 late last year.

Harcey told me he’s looking to add 18 percent to everything on the Victory 44 menu. “I think it’s the business’s job to compensate them fairly. You reward them for going above and beyond,” he said.

The new structure lets Harcey pay dishwashers and cooks more money, and it gives servers wage stability. He’s starting servers at $17/hour, and then giving them raises on an individual basis. Take extra coffee training, get a raise. Prove to be a stellar performer, get a raise. Harcey hired the whole service staff at Upton 43 with that model, but it was trickier at Victory 44 to implement with the existing staff.

“At first there was apprehension,” Harcey said. He ended up giving the servers the raises they would have earned to keep them in line with what they were earning in tips.

But any server will tell you, there’s tipping disparity among servers. Harcey’s restaurants only have about 5-8 people on the floor serving at any given time, so there are only a couple people who get the prime Friday or Saturday nights.

“With this, there’s no desired shifts — they’re all equally valued, which we think will improve the service quality,” Harcey said.

I love the idea of paying what it costs at a restaurant, to the restaurant, and then being done. He said his frequent customers are making out well under this plan — a built-in 18 percent tip is less than many people leave.

And his staff does better without tipping — he’s building up a pool of money to pay people when the restaurant closes between Christmas and New Year’s, for example. Servers who work Monday nights or Wednesday lunch are making more, too.

“They know their income ahead of time. They’re working better, they’re happier, there’s less stress,” he said.

But are you ready to pay the sticker price up front? Will people be deterred by a $17 burger, even though that’s probably about what they were paying when they were tippinganyway?

Learn more about Jason and his dining compatriot Joy.