NYC Servers Tell Us How a Tip-Free Industry Could Change Their Lives

Our cover story this week is about how this city's service industry is on the verge of changing in a big way. So, we decided to ask a handful of New York City servers: How does the prospect of a gratuity-free service industry sit with you? Is the stability of a steady paycheck worth trading in for the ability to walk out of work with wads of cash?

Ellen Berry
Server at J.G. Melon

It’s ridiculous and I don’t understand the idea behind it. The reason it’s ridiculous is when you’re in the service business, you’re here to provide good service, right? And so there’s an impetus for you to do well, to show that you’re capable, to do the right thing, to make it a good experience for the people that you’re waiting on. And as a reward for that — your pay for that — is the tip. So if it’s going to be a blanket amount for everyone, what’s the impetus for the waiter to go overboard, to do a really good job, to be professional? If it’s a common denominator that everybody is going to make the same amount of money, there is no impetus to excel, to be a real professional waiter or waitress.

Let’s say you sell insurance, right? The harder you work and the more you sell, the higher the commission you make. The tip is really a waiter’s commission. It’s a profession. Service is a profession. So no, the stability holds no appeal for me or for most of my colleagues, frankly.

Megan Morgenweck
Server at Jimmy’s Greenpoint

I mean, I think it’s cool, and I do think working in this kind of industry is a gamble. Every time I go in to work I’m rolling the dice, because I can make $200 during the shift, or I can leave with $50. That can really make or break my month and [determine] if I’m going to be able to pay rent and stuff. It’s pretty crazy, so I understand giving everyone just kind of a living wage and getting rid of this weird bizarre power structure that’s just giving all the power to customers.

I’m kind of choosing to do this work because of the money, but I understand that it’s not fair. It’s absolutely not fair. It makes me feel bad that the guys in the kitchen work really hard and they get paid, like, nothing. It’s not a fair system.

Mario Theodorou
Server at Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse

I think it’s terrible. They shouldn’t do that. I think it will be a ripoff for the waiters and the waitresses. I think it’s unfair, because if you [usually] put 15 percent or 18 percent on the check and your waiter or waitress gives you better service, you feel like giving more, no? How is it going to work? Is [the customer] going to take the extra money and put it in his pocket? It’s going to be confusion. I don’t agree with it.

Kristijan Jeremic
Server at Delmonico’s

The customer [tips because he or she] appreciates good service, and it’s like that in all restaurants in New York, except [Danny Meyer’s] now. So I definitely wouldn’t like to work in that kind of place. First, yes, because of the money. And second, I just like that connection between the customer and the waiter, because there is a connection.

It’s tradition. It’s what they’ve been doing for years here in the States. Now somebody’s started changing that and it’s probably going to affect all of us slowly.

Server at a popular French bistro in Murray Hill

I think it’s a terrible idea. I don’t think we’re going to be making the same money that we make right now from tips. Yes, on a slow night [an hourly wage] can cover you a little better if you have no one coming into the restaurant. But we’re definitely not going to be making the money that we make on a good night if we’re just being paid a salary. From that point of view, I think it’s a bad idea. Also, I think that servers who make part of their salary based on tips make an effort to give good service. I’ve been to other countries where the tip system is different than here, where you don’t usually tip, and the service there is terrible. I don’t think New Yorkers are going to like that type of service.

For stability, I’ll get a 9-to-5 job, not waiting tables at night. I can assure you that it’s not going to be the same money [under a gratuity-free system], so for lower pay I’ll get a job 9-to-5 like everybody else, where I wouldn’t be working a Christmas shift or during the weekend.

Patricia Lightell
Server at the Modern

It’s a huge change, but I feel like it’s a much-needed change in the right direction, the best direction for the future of the restaurant business.

I feel like this is the fate and the future of what going out to eat will be like in the hospitality industry. Period. I’d say within less than ten years this will be the norm. Do I think it’s a good idea? Yes. When it comes down to it, yes. I’ve heard more ‘Oh, this is so much easier’ than ‘No, you’re taking away my right to do what I want to do.’ I do think that overall, for the restaurant business — and the future of it all, in New York City especially — it’s a very good idea. Quality of life, as far as working, is going to improve, and I’ve already seen a change.

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