By Aviva Shen
(Credit: Ryan Sutton)
Sushi Yasuda, an upscale restaurant in New York City, is attracting attention for its decision to get rid of tips for waitstaff. Instead of a line for diners to write in a tip amount on their receipts, Sushi Yasuda has printed the following statement: “Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda’s service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted.”
Indeed, Sushi Yasuda’s waitstaff enjoy rare stability in an industry that justifies its long-standing minimum wage of $2.13 an hour by factoring in tips. Waiters generally support tips because of the potential windfalls on busy nights — but come away empty-handed if they’re stuck with a bad shift or stingy customers. Sushi Yasuda’s staff, on the other hand, is paid a salary with a benefits package complete with vacation days, sick leave, and health insurance. Tips were accepted but went directly to the restaurant, not to the servers.
Most restaurants use tips as an excuse to pay their servers less, even though surveys find employers often duck the federal requirement that only allows them to pay below minimum wage if tips make up the difference. As a result, servers’ poverty rate is nearly triple that of the entire workforce. They are also almost twice as likely to rely on food stamps than the general population.
And their ranks are swelling; the restaurant and service industries enjoy much stronger job growth than other sectors. Most of those jobs are low-wage, low-benefit, and part-time. Fast food workers are striking all over the country over unlivable wages and casual exploitation.
Sushi Yasuda’s benefit package is also a rarity in the industry. Nearly 90 percent of servers do not get health insurance through their employer, a dangerous status quo many restaurant chains have fought hard to maintain in the face of new Obamacare requirements.
Other upscale restaurants have also eliminated tipping, instead using a flat service charge that can then be distributed fairly among the staff. But it remains to be seen if this practice will become the norm or stay the exception in an unjust industry.