Wheat Ridge restaurant bans tipping, adds 20 percent service charge to bills

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WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. -- A Wheat Ridge restaurant is joining a growing trend across the country by ditching tips and instead opting for a flat 20 percent "service fee."

The owners said it's aimed at improving the lives and pay of employees.

When servers at Abrusci’s Italian Restaurant (3244 Youngfield St.) first saw the signs about a no-tipping policy going into effect July 20, many were unsure what to think.

“First reaction, without profanity, was … I was very scared,” said Eric Wisner, a full-time server at the restaurant.

Wisner said he was concerned because he often averages tips of 30 percent or more on good nights, but he felt differently after learning more from his bosses.

“We want to pay them a livable wage that they haven’t had in this industry,” owner Nancy Progar said.

Instead of a tip, the 20 percent service fee on each bill will go to payroll. That money will help the owners pay full-time servers a starting salary of $37,000 per year, or about $23 an hour. Part-time servers will start at $20 an hour and kitchen staff will also get a raise, starting at $15 an hour.

Full-time employees will also get some benefits that are rare in the restaurant industry.

“We’re working on health insurance down the road but right now it’s paid, two weeks time off, paid sick days, paid holidays,” Progar said.

Customers supported the idea.

“That’s about how much I normally tip so I don’t have a problem with it at all,” Fred Hansen said.

“It just kind of saves us a little bit of time and thought process,” Mary Stecklein said.

Despite support from many customers, there is one very common question.

“What kind of recourse would I have if I really did get bad service?” Albert Potthoff said.

Progar said the restaurant will seek input on service from each customer in two ways. Instead of a tip line on the bill, customers will be asked to rate the server. In addition, each bill will also include an anonymous questionnaire which customers can fill out and leave in a drop box.

“It’s a bold move, but it’s exciting because we feel that customers will get better service,” Progar said.

Wisner agrees now that he knows he’s valued by both his customers and his boss.

“They care about me and they see that I do a good job and work hard," Wisner said. "It’s a family atmosphere, definitely.”


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