5 Bay Area restaurants eliminate tipping, adopt service charge

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Michael Drummond/File

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Five restaurants in the Bay Area are planning to substitute tipping with a 20 percent service charge that would automatically be added in bills and eliminate other gratuities, in the wake of minimum wage increases in a number of cities.

The five restaurants — Comal in Berkeley, Camino and Duende in Oakland and Bar Agricole and Trou Normand in San Francisco — are in the process of implementing the 20 percent service charge to eliminate tipping at these businesses.

With the recent approval for minimum wage increases in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, restaurants in the Bay Area are trying to maintain profitability while giving kitchen staff equal opportunities for pay — unlike with tipping, where only those in the waiting system could collect tips, according to some restaurant owners. Berkeley instated a $10 hourly minimum wage Oct. 1, which is higher than state and federal levels.

Joyce Goldstein, a restaurant and food industry consultant in the Bay Area, said the minimum wage increase and a “huge shortage” of line cooks led to this implementation.

With the high cost of living in the Bay Area, Goldstein believes tipping is an inequitable and archaic system, especially for those who do not receive tips.

“A customer should not determine what people should be earning at a job,” Goldstein said. “What the restaurants are trying to do is survive in a very competitive business. Stability is very important in the business, and with the service charge, everyone works for the restaurant.”

Comal, a restaurant in Downtown Berkeley, has already implemented the service charge, said co-owner Andrew Hoffman.

“We wanted to address the widening pay discrepancy with bartenders and servers, and dishwashers and cooks,” Hoffman said. “By law, you can’t share tips with kitchen staff — unless it’s a service charge — to spread that wealth around.”

Hoffman said the other reason Comal switched to the service charge was to move away from the “tipping culture,” which he described as relying on the generosity of strangers rather than the restaurant paying its own employees.

According to Hoffman, Comal has maintained all of its employees with the new change; patrons are either in favor of or ambivalent to the service charge.

“I believe many restaurants will follow in the coming months and years. That’s what I hope,” Hoffman said.

Lois Kazakoff, the deputy editorial page editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, spoke during a live chat about sustaining the restaurant and food industry and the commitments service workers have, as well as the possibility of eliminating the tips.

“We only see the front of the house workers, but the real action and a high degree of skill is required in the back of the house,” Kazakoff said during the chat.

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robertono_t.