Beginning next week, customers at The Mulefoot Gastropub in Imlay City will no longer need to leave behind gratuity. On Tuesday, the popular Southeast Michigan eatery announced that it will be transitioning to a tip-free model and introducing a 20 percent service fee on all checks starting July 5.
Husband and wife team chef Mike Romine and general manager Allison Romine say they decided to introduce the no-tip format in order to provide a more consistent, fair wage to both front- and back-of-house employees. “Living on a tipped system makes it very hard financially for our employees to move forward,” says Mike Romine, noting that the restaurant faces significant seasonal fluctuations. “It’s like feast or famine. Sometimes [servers] make great money and sometimes they make none.”
The service fee is designed to combat the unpredictability of a tipped wage. The Mulefoot will add a flat 20 percent fee to all bills. The earnings from the service fee will then be used to subsidize a base hourly wage for all employees, which Allison says will be more than the $8.90 per hour guaranteed by Michigan’s state minimum wage. Additionally, The Mulefoot plans to offer employees wage incentives in the form of commissions.
Following the initial announcement yesterday, the couple says they received a wide mix of responses. Many patrons sent messages and emails “speaking very highly of it,” while others express anger and frustration with the no-tip format.
Mike hasn’t been swayed by the negative responses. “There is this thought process in our society that [customers] get to determine what their server deserves. But at the end of the day they’re our employees and it’s our decision to determine what they deserve,” he says. “We employ them and we encourage them and we train them and if they’re up to par then we feel that we can determine their wage and not someone who may be having a bad day.”
While gratuity-free models are common becoming increasingly popular in major cities around the country, they’re still a relatively uncommon in Michigan. Still a few spots such as Rose’s Fine Foods in Detroit, B. Nektar Meadery in Ferndale, and Miss Kim in Ann Arbor have notably touted alternative gratuity and compensation models for employees.
Unlike other industries in the U.S. where employees are guaranteed a standard minimum wage of at least $7.25 per hour, restaurant servers receive a lower wage that’s meant to be made up with gratuity. For example, the tipped minimum wage in Michigan is $3.38 and is meant to be made up with at least $5.52 in tips per hour.
The gratuity-free model is backed up by research. There is evidence of a correlation between race, ethnicity, gender and the amount of tips individual workers earn. Likewise, studies show that the majority of tipped workers live in poverty.
By eliminating the tipped wage, restaurant employee advocates hope to alleviate some earning inequalities in the work place and provide more consistent pay for employees. Not all restaurants have stuck with the no-tip model. Some establishments that eliminated gratuity later brought it back, citing customers’ perceptions that food was too expensive.
Still, Mike Romine believes that no-tip model will eventually dominate the restaurant industry. “We believe it’s the future of our industry and at the end of the day it’s the best thing for our staff.”
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