Market Street’s upscale Zuni Cafe is eliminating tips altogether

Andy B. via Yelp
By Joe Kukura - Published on May 06, 2021.

One little-discussed way that COVID-19 has changed our dining out behavior is that it has made many of us terrible tippers at restaurants. An October 2020 Harris Poll commissioned by Fast Company found that nearly 20% of American diners say they’re tipping less during the pandemic.  

And even prior to COVID-19, tipping ensured that waitstaff made a whole lot more money than kitchen staff, an inequity that made many restaurant workers (primarily kitchen staff!) uncomfortable. And the latest San Francisco restaurant attempting to even out that inequity is Market Street’s luxe Zuni Cafe. SFGate reports Zuni Cafe will eliminate tipping altogether at the restaurant, and merely tack on a 20% service charge that will be transferred to all employees’ wages, regardless of whether they work in the front of the house or back of the house.

The change will not be immediate, but will take effect when Zuni Cafe reopens for full indoor dining. A separate report from the Chronicle says that Zuni Cafe will reopen for indoor dining "in a few weeks." According to the restaurant’s website, Zuni Cafe is “now open for outdoor dining” only, and to-go service.  

“It's really important that people are paid fair wages and that their work is valued properly,” Zuni Cafe chef Nate Norris told SFGate. “The way I would articulate it right now is, I'm not mad that the servers have been making a good wage. I am upset that we don't have a system that makes it easier for the back of the house employees to also have that good wage.”

The move is not universally popular with staff. Unsurprisingly, some waitstaff are not thrilled.

"I did the actual math, and I would be going into debt if I accepted their offer,” one server anonymous server told SFGate. "And I'm a single man, no children, no car payment, no student debt. I just need my rent, and my utilities, and my food paid. I wasn't even able to get my rent necessities paid with what they were offering.”

What’s unspoken, though, is that servers of color are tipped substantially less, and that tips are often based on a server’s physical attractiveness or willingness to put up with customers’ gross sexual behavior.

Zuni Cafe is not the first San Francisco restaurant to eliminate tips. According to Eater, Zazie also eliminated tipping in recent years, as did the on-hiatus Bar Agricole, and former sister restaurant Trou Normand (RIP). And while President Biden’s $15 minimum wage plan would eliminate the tipped wage, that plan seems on the back burner as Biden pursues other legislative priorities.

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