'Tipping is an outdated practice with its roots in slavery and I don't want that in my restaurant'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

As of October, Simon Martin, the chef owner of Manchester's only Michelin-starred restaurant, Mana, is taking the service charge off of bills and increasing his team's salaries - and he's figured out how to do it without charging customers more money.

In an interview with The Staff Canteen, Simon explained that tipping was an archaic practice with its roots in the days of unpaid help, explaining that with the right system, it is possible to improve the industry's reputation and attract the best and the brightest into professional kitchens like his.

It all began with a bit of research at the height of the campaign for a hospitality minister, when the chef wondered why in the UK, where hospitality respresents 10% of the working economy, we don't already have one.

"So I started to do some research into the history of the industry," he said, "and found that at one point it wasn't a legitimate industry, it developed into one." 

"Hospitality began as the workers of wealthy people's houses. Cooks and service staff didn't actually get paid, it was a form of slavery. Tipping comes from that: they would flip a coin at a server or a cook and that was what they were expected to live on." 

And while we may have come some way since the days of being paid solely at diners' discretion, he continued, "a lot of people do seem to rely on getting good service charge to live the lives that they're trying to live." 

"In a modern society, with the very gild of highly professional people that I employ here, that doesn't really sit with my staff and I know if doesn't really sit with a lot of other people either." 

"It's an outdated and archaic practice that doesn't really bear its relevance to modern-day professionals that are coming into restaurants for a career." 

"I don't want my restaurant to have anything to do with slavery - I don't want their incomes to be dictated by the guests or the success of the business. They should have a good, stable salary every month." 

How is it possible to drop service charge and still be profitable?

Not only does it have such a negative past, but there are other added benefits to scrapping the fee - namely that guests are less likely to feel shorted once they get their bill at the end of a fifteen-odd course meal.

"It's more transparent: we don't have optional extras, all of our prices are on our website and we only have one menu, whether it's lunch or dinner." 

By adding the service on the bill, he said, "you're actually discouraging people from eating at your restaurant, because the more they spend the more they have to pay in service charge." 

"So that doesn't make sense either." 

And to the naysayers who claim that it is impossible to run a profitable business without the addition of service charge, he says that nobody needs to be out of pocket, "as long as you plan accordingly." 

At Mana, the bookings  for the team's four-day working-weeks come in three months in advance, with 26 covers and a waiting list that it can pull from.

The reservation system allows for tables for two or three people to be denied a slot if fours are needed to fill the restaurant, meaning the restaurant is full for every service. Meals are pre-paid meaning no-shows and wastage is second to none because of the menu format. 

"I've set the business up so that it's organised and we can make accurate predictions financially, depending on how business is going." 

"That's why it's very easy for us to be one of the first to do this, because we have such a straightforward model."

As for the claim that service charge is worthwhile because it is tax-free, he argues that it simply isn't - cash tips might go untaxed at other establishments, but those aren't technically legal, and his team will be turning them down as of October too. 

"If somebody tries to tip, we say no. We're not going to take it. It's an outdated practice with its roots in slavery and I don't want that in my restaurant," he said. 

If you're going to drop service charge, you need to communicate it clearly

Crucially, the point Simon wants to get across to his guests, to his teams and to other chefs and restaurateurs, is that "nobody's out of pocket here."

"As long as everybody's salary is right, which we're putting up accordingly, the only pivoting factor in this is communicating with people that there's no service charge and that's it." 

"That's even better I think, because some have no idea that a discretionary service will be added, so they've had an amazing time all day or night, and the last thing they do before they leave the restaurant is pay a charge that they weren't expecting and are too humble or embarrassed to question." 

"The only person that might be out of pocket here is me, and it's my job to manage my reservations manager to make sure that she's doing her job in making sure the restaurant is fully booked, and we get the numbers right from day 1." 

"The menu point works with those salaries, and if we're a little bit under," he chuckled, "well, I'll give them a bonus at the end of the month." 

"I understand how I might seem quite blasé about the whole thing in terms of finances," he concluded, "but it's just very straightforward for us." 

"I made this operation the way it is so that I can do my job and develop a menu and make sure that the restaurant is moving forwards, always. I don't want to be sat down doing forecasts and costings." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 31st March 2021

'Tipping is an outdated practice with its roots in slavery and I don't want that in my restaurant'