Abolishing restaurant tips harder than expected

Abolishing tipping isn’t proving to be as straightforward as some Oakland restaurateurs had originally hoped.

Camino (3917 Grand Ave.) and Duende (468 19th St.) were among the handful of restaurants that made national headlines last month when they decided to take tipping off the table in favor of implementing a 20 percent service charge. The move was inspired in large part by widening staff salary discrepancies and increasing minimum wage requirements.

Berkeley’s Comal (2020 Shattuck Ave.) has been using the new system for several weeks — it’s been very successful and the transition has been smooth, says Comal partner Andrew Hoffman — but the Oakland restaurants have hit a bit of a legal roadblock.

Oakland’s Measure FF, which will raise minimum wage to $12.25 per hour beginning on March 2, contains a sentence that could curtail the service charge idea. It reads, “This measure would require that hospitality employers in Oakland who collect service charges from customers pay those service charges to employees who provide the service.”

So how would the courts define “employees who provide the service”? Does it mean only those servers who directly interact with the customer? Or does it include the cooks who prepared the food, or the dishwashers who clean the plates?

Camino co-owner Allison Hopelain says the wording is vague enough to give them pause on their plan to distribute the service charge to help pay restaurant employees, both in the front of the house and in the kitchen.

They don’t want to fight the language in the courts, so they’re moving to Plan B. They’re eliminating tipping, nixing the service charge idea — and simply raising menu prices.

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