Zuni Cafe in San Francisco removed the tips a year ago. Despite the rollback, he won’t bring them back.

More than a year after Zuni Café implemented a mandatory service fee in lieu of tips, restaurant owner Gilbert Pilgram said he had no plans to go back to the previous model despite employee objections.

A number of Zuni Café workers told the San Francisco Chronicle that the move made it difficult to make ends meet without the help of tips and that they “got to the point of discussing strike or unionization to put pressure on Zuni,” The Chronicle reported. (Both SFGATE and San Francisco Chronicle are owned by Hearst but operate independently of each other.)

While the pressure has prompted Bilgram to reassess the current model in place, he told the Chronicle that returning tips is not an option. At this time, it is not clear what changes, if any, will be made to the additional cost. SFGATE has reached out to Zuni Café for comment but has not received a response at press time.

“It’s not in the restaurant owner’s interest to have a system that makes any part of the restaurant unhappy. It’s a recipe for disaster,” company owner Gilbert Belgram told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The no-tip policy has been a source of contention for Zuni Café employees since it was first adopted in 2021. When Chef Nate Norris added a 20% service surcharge to customer tabs in order to replace tips, his goal then, and now, was to create a system that would It mitigates wage inequality so that both front and back home workers benefit.

“I was going to watch a lot of my career [the pay equality gap] From a perspective, kind of bitter and unfair, and he had some animosity toward employees who were better compensated than I was, because of structural inequality,” Norris told SFGATE last year. “…I am not angry that the servers were getting paid well. I am upset that we don’t have a system that makes it easier for back-of-house employees to also get that good pay.”

FILE – Zuni Cafe is located at 1658 Market St. in San Francisco. Employees remain frustrated with the Zuni Cafe’s no-disposal rule, which was implemented in 2021.

The Washington Post/Washington Post via Getty Images

Norris, for his part, has worked hard to tear down the split between servers and in-house workers so the tip can be distributed fairly. He told the Chronicle that in his experience, he’s noticed that servers view “this money as their money.” But Zuni Café waiters told the Chronicle that the current system had taken its toll.

“I agree that the back house deserves more money,” Kate Sachin, who serves Zuni Café, told the Chronicle. “We, the servers, are suffering a lot from that. A lot of us wish it could go back to the old system.”


Last year, a former Zuni Café employee named Marshall C., who was granted anonymity under Hearst’s ethical policy, told SFGATE that he was offered an hourly wage of $24 under the no-tip policy to return to Zuni Café. At the time of the deal, Marshall was laid off from Zuni Café amid the pandemic. He shared that he found removing the tips amazing, and after some thought, decided to decline the offer when he concluded he wouldn’t be able to pay rent or other personal expenses. (Norris later told SFGATE that the $24-an-hour starting wage doesn’t account for all shows.)

Marshall added that seven domestic workers allegedly declined offers based on tip removal. Furthermore, the Chronicle found that Zuni Café had kept fewer servers compared to chefs throughout the pandemic, with only three of the previous 23 servers remaining on board.

Norris told the Chronicle he’s not sure if the waiters dip is a direct result of the no-tip rule, especially since so many people have left the hospitality industry or are out of state. He added that the restaurant is currently operating at full capacity.

Following the Chronicle’s report, Zuni Café shared a post on Instagram Thursday in which he said he knew removing the tips would create challenges and provide an opportunity to learn from the change.

“We remain committed to the goals of paying dignified wages and benefits that reflect the value of work and engage our community as we work to make sure we achieve these goals,” wrote Zuni Café.



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