The dish on Long Island's restaurant and food scene.
The decision to eliminate tipping and raise menu prices by the group that owns Manhattan's Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern was met warily Thursday by Nassau and Suffolk restaurant owners, who said the Long Island market was different and loss of diners would be likely.
"I'd be real hesitant," said Tom Schaudel, whose establishments include Jewel in Melville and A Lure in Southold. "It's a tough economy to start raising prices 15 to 20 percent. Diners are price-sensitive . . . I don't want to be the first" to make that choice.
Schaudel and other restaurant owners said that diners on Long Island, while long accustomed to tipping what they believe is fair, would be reluctant to pay more automatically without factoring in the quality of their particular experience.
On Tuesday, Danny Meyer, chief executive of the Union Square Hospitality Group, announced that, beginning at The Modern, USHG's restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art, tipping would be eliminated. That policy, being undertaken to raise workers' wages, is expected to extend to all USHG restaurants over the next year.
Meyer termed the hospitality business "a team sport." He said the "bold decision" is aimed at fairness to USHG's 1,800 employees, particularly those such as cooks, chefs and reservationists, who aren't servers. Meyer said diners' checks "won't differ much" from what they pay now. USHG's only establishments on Long Island are the counter-service Shake Shack branches in New Hyde Park and Garden City.
"It's a paradigm shift, but it's going to take a while," said Michael Bohlsen, co-owner of the namesake restaurant group that operates Prime: An American Kitchen & Bar in Huntington and Tellers: An American Chophouse in Islip, among others. Locally, he said, "People like to have some ability, to have the power over what will be paid" in gratuities. But he and other restaurateurs noted that the no-tip policy, which has been implemented elsewhere, was grounded in fairness.
Long Island restaurant owners also said that the dining-out business in Nassau and Suffolk is primarily local, without the boost from national and international tourists who contribute to profits in New York City. "Over 90 percent" of diners at Bohlsen restaurants are Long Islanders, Michael Bohlsen said.
The no-tip policy "is very complicated and will have many side effects," said George Korten, president of the George Martin Group, which includes George Martin in Rockville Centre, George Martin's Grillfire in Merrick, Rockville Centre and Syosset, and George Martin's Strip Steak in Great River. Korten said it could diminish incentives, affect the quality of service, and would raise the sales tax. "Dining out could become more of a luxury."
Gillis Poll, co-owner of Bryant & Cooper and Hendrick's Tavern in Roslyn and Toku and Cipollini in Manhasset, among others, said: "Margins are narrower and costs are higher" for restaurants, which had to be "cautious" about raising prices on Long Island.