For the benefit of anyone who was just returned to earth by space aliens, Danny Meyer announced this week that his Union Square Hospitality Group will halt tipping at all 13 of its restaurants within a year. On the full-service market’s Richter Scale, this is the Big One, a shift of either monumental import or disastrous stupidity by fine dining’s standard setter.
Whatever the ultimate outcome, Meyer’s bold move provides lessons for any restaurateur considering a fundamental change in what customers will experience. Here are four ways the revered restaurateur (and RB’s 2015 Restaurant Leader of the Year) made the controversial decision more comfortable for the public, and one distinction that signals his success in that regard.
He was completely transparent.
Technically, Meyer previewed what he intended to do rather than airing a set plan for the change. As he said in a letter to customers, the impending change is still under discussion and development, but “we want you to understand [the thinking] before your next visit to one of our restaurants.” And then he spelled out the reasons why USHG was considering such a radical move.
He even invited customers to influence the decision by attending a town-hall-type meeting on Nov. 2, and urged those who couldn’t come to email USHG their questions or comments.
The upshot: This is a change that is being made with customers, not regardless of them.
He branded the change.
The plan may not have gelled yet, but Meyer had a name ready that summed up the initiative in a concise, attractive way: Hospitality Included. The man from Eleven Madison used a Mad Men approach to tag the change as a service enhancement, not a discontinuation of a prized American tradition.
He provided ample time for mentally adjusting to the switch.
Tipping won’t be dropped tonight, tomorrow or even next week. Indeed, the process won’t begin for a month, and it’ll take a year to complete. The public was given time to absorb the news, discuss it and even let some curiosity build.
There was no bashing of competitors.
Meyer presented Hospitality Included as a benefit for employees, guests and USHG, not an edge over other places to eat in New York City. Because of the high-road approach, the initiative came across as a sincere effort to help the group’s three major constituencies instead of a cheap stab at one-upmanship.
And the proof that labor saw the plan as a genuine effort to help employees:
Organizers applauded the decision as a classy move.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor group backed in part by the nation’s largest service union, was quick to praise USHG for pledging to replace tips with a salary program.
Co-director Sara Jayaraman interrupted what has been a steady stream of invective directed at the restaurant industry to speak glowingly of the move. In a statement, she called USHG’s decision “a powerful example for New York restaurants and beyond…We hope other restaurants will follow suit.”