Restaurant to ban tipping in New York

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Tipping in New York can generally be described as a nightmare by Australian tourists trying to navigate the often murky world of service gratuities. Whether it is trying to decide how much tip should be left after a dinner in a Midtown restaurant, whether or not you have to tip your taxi driver who has done nothing except drive you 15 blocks from Central Park to your Upper East Side hotel or if you need to tip the hotel doorman who simply held the door open for you. Australian travellers for decades have been caught off guard when trying to determine the protocol, and in some cases being rudely advised what is expected of them.

All is not lost however, a prominent Midtown Manhattan restaurateur has taken the bold step to ban tipping in any of his 13 mid-range restaurants. Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group has made the change in an attempt to equalise staff pay and to make it easier for his customers. His plan will involve increasing the price of meals and drinks with the rationale being that he wants to be able to provide better pay for all his staff in the front of house and his kitchen staff.

On an average night he says his wait staff can pocket anywhere up to an extra $200 dollars in tips but that none of the kitchen team will see any of it. Mr Meyer does admit that there is a discrepancy in the average wage for cooks and chefs compared to wait staff, however he also has to provide additional financial assistance to his dishwashing staff who are also on minimum wage without the added benefit of gratuities to increase their take home pay.

As you can imagine his plan has been met with a wide range of emotions from owner restaurant owners who decry the idea that it will significantly affect their own bottom line and that they expect it would lead to a decrease in the level of service offered. While wait staff in other establishments have been mixed in their response making particular point about the proposed difference in the average increase in prices of 20 – 25% where as the average tip is only 21% and who at the end of the day will come out further in front, the staff or the owner(s).

VisitingNewYork.com.au understands that it is far from a perfect system, however at the end of the day the current system allows for the consumer to ultimately decide what they thought of the service and provide the feedback which they believe is appropriate for the service they have received in the form of a tip.

This is usually a difficult concept for Australian travellers to New York to grasp simply because there is so many conflicting stories about tipping in America and New York in particular. For the time being it is still very much the norm to have to provide a tip for almost all service related activities, here is our quick guide to who and how to tip.

Restaurants

If the service is prompt and courteous I generally just double the tax and that is the minimum I will leave. If the server has provided service that I believe has exceeded my expectations I will generally round it up to 20%.

If you are dining in a party of 6 or more New York restaurants will generally add a Service charge to the bill to ensure that a fair gratuity is left. This is also a common practice on public holidays.

Taxis

Generally round up to the next whole dollar. If the driver has been very personable and had a nice chat I’ll give him or her an extra $3 or $4.

Hotels

If a Bellman helps with my luggage I will give him $1 per bag or when I have travelled with my family and needed the assistance of his whole “birdcage” trolley I prompted gave him $10 (it was well worth it).

Bars

This really depends on the type of bar, how many drinks are being ordered and how busy it is. A good rule of thumb I like to abide by generally rounding up to the nearest $5 for a round of drinks (i.e. 1 – 4 drinks), if it is busy and the lounge / bar has table service I will generally provide a $10 for the first round and then the level of service should be well maintained after that, if not then I will generally revert to the $5 a round.

Some lounges (especially in and around Greenwich) will expect larger tips even if there is a cover charge – unfortunately that is the price of business in New York sometimes!

Day Spa’s / Massage / Salon

This is probably the greyest area I have come across in New York when it comes to accepting tips and how much they are appreciated. Your typical small “hole in the wall” type back and neck massage I would generally not even bother leaving a tip unless it has been outstanding. My experience has generally been that the masseuse has been more interested in continuing on with their conversation than actually giving a good massage.

If however you visit a full Day Spa for treatments of 60 minutes or more, and the quality of the spa is nice and relaxing and the treatment is of a good quality expect to be “requested” to leave a 20% tip. In situations like these I have personally provided the feedback that I do not believe it to be worth a tip of that size, there maybe some resistance however if they are just trying to extort you for being a tourist they generally don’t put up much resistance.

If you find yourself getting a hair cut or colour in New York you can expect to either see a service charge added to your bill or you will be asked to leave a tip once you have settled the bill. It is expected that a tip of 15 – 20% is left for the stylist.

Tipping in New York is difficult even for seasoned travellers however if Danny Meyer’s plan takes off it maybe something that is assigned to the history books, however one thing is for sure, in the short-term tipping in New York will still be something of a hassle.

Mr Meyer will begin his ambitious plan by launching his new policy in his Modern restaurant which is located near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in late November 2015.

Jase is the founder and editor of VisitingNewYork.com.au. His passion for New York runs deep, after purchasing a New York travel guide while in high school, it's been a love affair ever since. Having visited over 20 times for work and pleasure he decided to start VisitingNewYork.com.au to help other Aussie's who are planning their own New York adventure to ensure they get the most out of their trip to the greatest city in the world.

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