Skip to main content

Sexism Is One Reason A Seattle Restaurateur Stopped Tips

Enlarge Icon
Flickr Photo/Eric Heath (CC BY 2.0)/

Chef Renee Erickson says she was trying to close pay gaps among her employees when she eliminated tipping at her Seattle restaurants.

But she told KUOW’s David Hyde that the change also might help battle another problem in restaurants: sexism.

“Being a woman and serving people can be uncomfortable at times,” she said. “Comments can be made that remind you that you’re working for a tip, which can be really inappropriate and difficult and not fair and not part of your job.”

That desire to wield control over a server can also play out in terms of race.

“Nobody should have to work under that cloud of feeling like they’re not the right ‘fill in the blank’ to this person who’s controlling their income,” said Erickson, who owns the restaurants Barnacle, Whale Wins, Boat Street Café, and The Walrus and the Carpenter.

Beyond that, she said, it’s just sound business management to control employees’ pay.

“We need to pay everybody what they deserve based on their skill level and how great they are at it,” she said. “We’re the ones who are looking at the big picture.”

And would any other industry agree to run things this way?

“For some reason, we have this external board that gets to help decide how much each employee makes,” she said, referring to customers. “It’s a little weird when you think about it that way, compared to other businesses and how they function.”

Erickson is far from alone among high-end restaurateurs. New York restaurants Gramercy Tavern and The Modern are planning to drop tipping in mid-November, NPR reports. Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told All Things Considered that the change will help eliminate pay disparities between waiters and other workers, such as cooks and dishwashers.

In Seattle, the Ivar’s fish house chain dropped tipping at its Lake Union restaurant this spring and raised the minimum wage there to $15. Part of that was to get ahead of the boost in the minimum wage coming in Seattle over the next couple years, said Bob Donegan, president and CEO of Ivar’s.

But there’s another reason, he told KUOW’s The Record: “The science says there is very little correlation between tipping and good service.”

Photo: “Tip Jar” by Eric Heath on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Why you can trust KUOW