Back in September, William Oliver’s Publick House in Fort Collins, Colorado, became a tip-free establishment. Now, bartenders and waitstaff are not allowed to take tips — but in exchange, they receive a higher hourly wage, between $15 and $25 per hour. Any tips left after a customer leaves are funneled to three charities: Respite Care, Partners Mentoring Youth, and the Firefighter Community Compassion Fund. It’s been about a month since the program started, and so far, so good. At this point, the pub has raised more than $1,600 in tips for charity — even without focusing on goodwill money specifically.
“There’s that mentality that’s hard to overcome that you’ve got cash in your hand and you feel obligated to leave a tip,” owner Ryan Wallace said. “So we just said we’re going to put it to charity so there wouldn’t be any confusion for customers. It’s not something we’re actively pursuing. It wasn’t intended to be this big charity driver. It was just knowing human nature. There will be people who want to leave cash no matter what we say, and it provides a mechanism to do that. It’s going really well. We’re getting a lot of really good feedback.”
The overall goal for Wallace when he instituted the program was to provide a healthier work-life balance for the employees. He knew that living on a minimal server wage, which often produces paychecks of a whopping $20, can make everything more difficult, from budgeting to just enjoying the finer things in life.
“If you work in this industry and you want to go to a concert, the concert ticket might be $60, but then you might lose $300 or $400 in tips,” Wallace said. “That means that all of a sudden, that concert costs $360. It makes it very hard for people.”
And while the waitstaff is fine with that, some customers aren’t too happy with the new system.
“Some customers are more frustrated with it than our employees are,” bartender Hailey Drummond said. “A lot of them say that before, they could kind of control the wage the bartender makes depending on their performance. They come in here and they get really good service from somebody, they want to show them that they appreciate that awesome service, and they get kind of frustrated that we don’t keep the tips and we donate them. And then we get hugely stingy people that you tell them it’s going to charity and they pull back their ten bucks. But you’ll always have those stingy people.”
Outside of customers, anyone who’s spent time as a bartender or waitstaff has felt pressure to get more tables and outperform the other servers, creating detrimental tension between fellow staff members. Collecting and counting tips turns into a kind of competition that each employee partakes in, willingly or not. But with this new system, William Oliver employees are free from that hassle. And, according to Drummond, it’s made the working environment a little more chill.
“It’s more laid-back,” she said. “It’s not that people are being lazy, it’s just not as stressful an environment. Everyone’s pulling their own weight. We’re all working a lot more as a team now that it’s not competitive trying to pick up tables and trying to make more than the person next to you.”
Wallace is quick to point out as well that a higher hourly rate doesn’t mean employees are sticking around, milking the clock when no customers are coming in. Under the standard wage system, when business is slow, people get sent home. It’s the same now at William Oliver; employees are still asking to be cut when no one’s coming in. According to Wallace, the entire staff is on board with the new system and just as invested as he is.
Both Wallace and Drummond recognize that while this system works for William Oliver, it may not be the best system for every restaurant or bar out there. Every business has their own set of unique finances that might not allow for the high labor costs of a tip-less system — especially using the same package William Oliver uses, which also gives employees full benefits. But they both equally hope that the system does catch on and higher wages become a standard in the industry.
“I personally like it and it would be pretty nice to go to a place and have the same system,” Drummond said. “It’s weird for me now to go out because I’m like, ‘Shit, I forgot I still have to tip,’ because I’m so used to it here. It’d be nice to see other places jump on the bandwagon, but who knows.”
Until then, staff and most of the customers will continue to enjoy the system, even coming in and offering extra money specifically for those charities.
“I actually have one regular that works for Respite Care,” Drummond said. “Every time she comes into the bar, she’ll chat with customers about it. We have a lot of people who, on a $10 check, will leave twenty bucks for charity.”