Closing Thoughts on The Tipless Restaurant Series

This morning I declined an opportunity to appear on NBC’s The Today Show. It was probably the twentieth offer I’ve had in the last week to go on the air with a significant media program. I’ve declined them all, but it was particularly hard to turn down Today. Even I know that it’s a pretty big deal.

A few weeks ago, I would have thought it improbable that I would be fielding offers to appear on national television. But we’re seeing now that there’s just a lot of interest in the subject of tipping; and I’d say it’s clear that there’s a need for more discourse about it. An overwhelming number of people have been reading this blog and my pieces in Slate and Quartz about my experiences at the Linkery. I’m exceptionally grateful to all of you for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned on the subject.

I’m also humbled and touched by the many people who have emailed me about their personal experiences, as guests, as servers, as cooks and dishwashers, and as restauranteurs. And I’m quite excited for the restauranteurs who’ve told me they’re going to go down the same path we did — I trust and hope it will be as positive for you as it was for us. (Relatedly, Vinland sure looks like my cup of tea, I can’t wait to check it out when it opens.)

All that said, while I support reforming tipping culture, the point of this blog is not about tipping. Reforming tipping wasn’t the point of my time in restaurants, either. Yes, we did our best to develop an alternate system, one that preserved as much respect as possible for everyone in the building, from the guest to the server to the cook to the dishwasher. I’m proud of what we accomplished with that; as far as I know we were the first to prove the viability of such a system.

But the reason we implemented the new system wasn’t because we wanted to reform tipping. The reason for our system was to put everyone in the best position to contribute their gifts to an exceptional project. We hoped to bring some special food to our community, and to help build a special community around that food. To whatever extent we succeeded, that success had to be built on a foundation of non-exploitation, between us and our guests, between our front-of-house and back-of-house, between us and our farmers, between our farmers and their animals. In moving to a more straightforward system, we were doing our best to create a context in which good things could happen on every level.

And it’s true that nothing about what we did, or how we did it, was perfect. That would have been impossible — everything we did was the result of intentions and efforts by human beings, and humans don’t do perfect very well. But we learned over time to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize was not to change how people thought about tipping, instead it was to do our best to create an environment where all of us could best experience food, community and love.

That’s in the end what inspires me, and as tempting as it is to be on national TV, I can’t see becoming the media’s go-to “Tipping Guy” being a step in the right direction. But I do have a few things I’m itching to share, things I’ve learned or dreamed up, that some of you might find fun, or even occasionally helpful. That’s what this blog is for, and I hope you’ll keep checking in, if it suits you.

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