The debate over voluntary tipping and restaurant wages has been a hot topic in the food world over the past year. Back in October, Danny Meyer shocked many by announcing he would eliminate tipping at his New York restaurants, and since then several restaurants across the country have followed suit (including casual chain Joe's Crab Shack).
In Los Angeles, a handful of restaurants now include service charges at the bottom of the check (KazuNori, Petit Trois and Trois Familia among them), but none has gone as far as to eliminate tipping altogether — until now.
Bel Air Bar + Grill, a Bel Air restaurant owned by Susan Disney Lord (granddaughter of Walt Disney's brother, Roy), announced that it will transition to a tipless business on Dec. 28. The restaurant, which features seasonal up-market cooking from chef Chris Emerling, will forgo service charges and remove the option for gratuities on the check, meaning all operational costs will be folded into prices on the menu.
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According to a PR email sent out by the restaurant, the move aims to directly benefit restaurant staff:
This dramatic shift represents a significant change in the operations of the restaurant and will allow a fair living wage to be paid to all employees four years ahead of what will be the 2020 Los Angeles mandatory minimum-wage increase. “We want to create a healthier paradigm for the industry, one where we take better care of our employees. We want to be a frontrunner in this hospitality revolution and reinvent the business model for all restaurants,” says Susan Disney Lord.
Bel Air Bar + Grill will then offer an increased hourly rate to both front- and back-of-house employees. “By eliminating voluntary gratuities and providing a consistent, living wage for all employees” says Disney Lord, “we are allowing our team at Bel Air Bar + Grill an opportunity to earn a solid wage and take pride in their work.” Cash and credit card tips will not be accepted. If a customer insists on offering a gratuity, their donation will be given to Alzheimer’s Greater L.A., of which Susan Disney Lord is a board member.
Many chefs and restaurant owners agree that the current tipping system is badly in need of reform, but those who've tested hybrid models (including Andy Ricker at the recently opened Pok Pok L.A. and Zach Pollack at Alimento) have been met with mixed success. Bel Air Bar + Grill isn't as widely influential as the restaurants operated by Danny Meyer, but its decision to provoke a greater conversation in L.A. might have an outsize impact in the near future.