Last week, Ferndale's B. Nektar Meadery announced the taproom would do away with gratuity, in favor of a "fair living wage" for taproom employees. The company is the latest in Metro Detroit trending toward higher wages for restaurant and bar staffs. Meanwhile, at the state-level bills were introduced by House Democrats in June proposing Michigan slowly phase out the $3.10 tipped minimum wage by 2018.
For B. Nektar's founders Brad and Kerri Dahlhofer the question of tipping was raised as the couple discussed the possibility of adding a kitchen to the newly expanded taproom. Coming from a brewing background more than a restaurant perspective, eliminating tips just made sense. "From an outsider's perspective [tipping] seemed really confusing and an area that could create a whole lot of drama," Brad says. Making sure tips are distributed fairly and correctly "sounds like it's a lot of work for something that doesn't even seem fair. What if we just paid people?"
After exploring the issue, the couple spoke with bartenders in the area to discuss what would qualify as a fair wage. "We talked to the employees too before we did it to see what they thought. They were on board and they were actually excited about it," Kerri explains. "If they didn't really think that was a good idea, I think we would have had a lot more discussions about it and figured out what we were going to do, but they were on board and excited."
"The whole tipping thing is so confusing in general, I would like to see this sort of blossom into something more."
While the Dahlhofers won't reveal exactly how much wages have changed at the taproom, Kerri does allow that their small group of employees "agreed to it and they feel it's fair." Taproom employees were always paid well above the tipped minimum she adds.
With the rise in wages, B. Nektar has also raised taproom prices slightly to accommodate the change. The new rates are adjusted to account for what would have been the traditional 10 to 20 percent tip for a glass or pitcher of mead or beer. Likewise, the company has outfitted each of the tasting room tables with an informational QR code where customers can go with their smartphones and discover more information about tipped minimum wage.
A kitchen is still quite a ways down the road for B. Nektar, but in the meantime Kerri says B. Nektar is pleased to be somewhat unintentionally leading a trend."I think it's cool that it's still kind of new. That is sort of the B. Nektar way is to do things that are not so mainstream. We kind of just do things our own way," Kerri says. "The whole tipping thing is so confusing in general, I would like to see this sort of blossom into something more."
B. Nektar meadery is in the process of expanding and doubling production. Check out what's new at the taproom Thursday through Monday (hours vary) or visit the 7th Anniversary Summer Fest on August 1.