Why I Haven’t Given Up on the “Hospitality Included” No-Tipping Model
A Los Angeles restaurateur pleads her case and refuses to abandon her ideals
Hey, it’s me, Andrea. That 26-year-old, first-time, downtown Los Angeles-based restaurateur who decided to eliminate tipping. Not trying to toot my own horn here, it’s just that I’m 29 now, and the audacity of my decision is starting to weigh increasingly heavy on me. I’m considering how many before me tried the same and failed, and how hastily I had ascribed those missteps to generalizations like “company culture” or “staff morale.” I made broad assumptions about complex problems and swept anything that didn’t fit my idealistic worldview under the rug. We can be really naïve when our pride is at stake.
I opened barcito in September 2015, in an up-and-coming downtown LA neighborhood. The concept aimed to provide an approachable, affordable Latin American bar to local residents. My mother is from Argentina, and I spent most childhood summers exploring the streets of Buenos Aires with my grandparents. I was always enchanted by the classic corner cafés, the kind that you pop into for a quick coffee, or stay all afternoon, lingering over food and drink, catching up with friends. Although not an authentic reproduction of the cuisine — for the millionth time, no we don’t carry Malbec — barcito was, in its purest form, intended to be a catch-all for the community, serving coffee, cocktails, and small bites. We’d be open all day, to fulfill our duty as a neighborhood go-to, and staffed by a team of hospitality pros that keep regulars coming back. It took us nearly two years to finally muster the courage to open for daytime service, which is still only limited to weekdays.
In October 2015, Danny Meyer announced he would eliminate tipping across his restaurants. That’s when my ears perked up. As an alum of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) — of which Meyer serves as CEO — I drank the “enlightened hospitality” Kool-Aid, and firmly believe in the importance of putting your employees first. Yes, this means before guests, and before investors. The trickle-down effect works, and the idea of taking this model a step further — eliminating tipping, providing better pay to kitchen staff (who weren’t allowed to partake in tips), revenue sharing…