“It has not been an easy decision,” chef-owner Mansour Gorji told the Observer. “I have been thinking about it for over a year now.”
The no-tipping trend began on the coasts, at restaurants run by celebrity chefs like Danny Meyer, in order to guarantee servers fair pay for their work without having to rely on the generosity of guests, and without having to worry about busy or quiet nights. Across-the-board increases to menu prices help finance reliable wages for staff.
Canary appears to be the first restaurant in Dallas to join the experiment, and it’s a perfect fit. Canary has just eight tables, its cuisine is elegantly high-end and it doesn’t practice turn-and-burn seating or allow children to dine. The restaurant employs five people total, its chef-owner excluded.
Gorji told the Observer he plans price increases across the menu averaging 18 to 20 percent per item, “the region that people are leaving tips anyway,” he said. Since Canary is so small, the new policy is not just for waiters, either, but for "everybody, front of the house and back of the house," he explained. "We are all very excited.”
Gorji sees advantages not just in fairness to employees, but in overall service quality. He points out that servers who don’t rely on tips won’t feel pressure to up-sell.
“To me,” Gorji writes in a forthcoming press release, “a dining experience should be void of this hoopla, and that’s why we don’t rush you out the door to seat someone else in your place.”
Dallas restaurants have long flirted with the idea of joining the fair-wage movement. Café Momentum does, in fact, pay its staff a flat rate, but that’s a special case, since the restaurant is a nonprofit employing young people recently released from juvenile detention. Tips at Momentum are considered donations to the charity. Joe's Crab Shack, the largest American franchise to attempt the no-tipping model, ended their gratuity-free experiment after six months. In 2015, Jon Alexis of TJ’s Seafood told the Observer, “I wish I had the balls to be at the forefront. ... The American tipping system is so ingrained with the customers and the staff that I don't want to be on the front line of changing minds.”
Gorji expressed hope that Canary could prove a model for the rest of Dallas.
“I hope it works and I hope everybody else can do the same," he said. "I hope we don’t have people [in the service industry] saying, I want to get a ‘real’ job. This is a real job.”
Now that someone is at the forefront, it will be fascinating to see the experiment unfold. “It is uncharted territory for me, of course," Gorji said. "I am very anxious to see how it turns out. But at some point you have to conquer your fears and find out.”