The Real Reason Eleven Madison Park Brought Back Tipping

Few things are more central to American dining than tipping. Whether you're at a cafe, a fast casual restaurant, or a fine dining spot, it's customary to leave a tip. And, when Americans travel abroad, they're often surprised to find that other countries don't really engage in the practice. The Guardian traced the genesis of tipping in the U.S. to the early 20th century: It became more widespread in the '20s "when prohibition cut into restaurants' profits."

Over the past decade, however, some U.S. restaurants have experimented with getting rid of tipping, and with varied results. Their motivation is noble: To ensure workers have higher wages. Interestingly, though, many restaurants that gave up tipping also eventually reinstated it. This includes the impressive roster of concepts from restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose restaurants went gratuity-free in 2016 (as reported by Robb Report). 

To take care of his workers, according to Eater, Meyer raised prices around 30%. But his three Michelin-starred New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, considered a leading voice not only in its tipping philosophy, but in its menu, which went entirely plant-based last year, ended up reverting to tipping earlier this year.

Tipping allows wages to be more competitive

Beginning this past February, Eleven Madison Park added back a tipping option, removing gratuity from its $335 prix fixe menu and $175 bar tasting menu. According to Eater, the restaurant said that moving back to tipping will actually yield better pay for its service staff, as revenue has decreased due to the pandemic. Indeed, with diners going out less, restaurants across the country have suffered, with many being forced to close permanently. Meyer (and many others) seem to believe that raising prices and adding tipping back could ensure that both front and back-of-house staff earn what they deserve.

Eater critic Ryan Sutton speculated that with the new tipping model, the cost of going to Eleven Madison Park would be substantially higher; Dinner (just the tasting menu) for two, the critic said, could cost around $130 more. They went on to say that with the optional beverage pairings added, dinner would cost at least $200 more than it did when tipping was included.