Restaurant owner Christopher Quist does things a little differently at his Fairbanks restaurant, LUNCH Café and Eatery. The cafe uses mostly organic and locally sourced items and has an extensive gluten-free menu. It doesn't serve any mammal products, including dairy. And, in what is likely an Alaska restaurant first, it doesn't accept tips.
"I think it's the future," Quist said in a phone interview in Fairbanks on Wednesday.
Quist has been going "service compris" (using the French pronunciation) at the restaurant since July. Quist, also a Fairbanks North Star Borough assemblyman, said he introduced the idea of eliminating tips in an effort to create a more "egalitarian" work environment. Any tips left behind are donated to Stone Soup Café, a local soup kitchen.
"The dishwasher is important. The cook is important. The baker, who was in at 5 a.m., who was gone before you came in for lunch -- they were a very important part of the process," Quist said. "By just including the service, we're able to have more equal pay for all the people involved."
Alaska is one of eight states that require tipped workers to be paid by the employer at least the state minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. Other states have "tip credits" that allow employers to pay as low as $2.13 an hour. That's led to a movement in some cities to abolish tipping. The moves are often linked to an increase in minimum wage hikes -- and to distribute costs among both the front- and back-of-house restaurant employees. Closer to home, some Seattle restaurants recently implemented no-tipping policies.
Quist said he talked to employees before he decided to make the move earlier this year after two years of business. He said there was complete support from his 11 employees -- including servers.
He said it gives the staff more reliability when it comes to their paychecks. It also allows them to concentrate on doing a good job instead of just concentrating on getting the tip.
"If you think about it, it's a peculiar activity, tipping," he said. "And determining who is worthy of a tip and how much is kind of an odd behavior."
He declined to say exactly what he paid his staff before implementing the no-tip policy but that it was over $10 an hour. He said servers, which make up about a quarter of the staff, would take home the most of the gratuity. Quist said it was up to the servers if they wanted to distribute tips among the rest of the staff. After going tip-free, he increased wages "upward" of 30 percent.
To achieve that, Quist increased menu prices. Including gratuity, sandwiches run between $12.75 and $14.75 and salads between $12.50 and $16.50. A small mocha is $4 while a cup of in-house roasted coffee will set you back $2.
He said the change has been well-received overall, though he admitted some customers struggle with the concept.
There's also been some trial and error. An attempt to offer a flat service charge earlier in the year did not go over well. Quist said he wasn't sure why it didn't work.
"The psychology of tipping is complex," he said. "There are some people who really want to be able to tip and when you take it away they feel deprived."
All his employees originally agreed to the change and of those who have since left, the reason is normally attrition, Quist said. But the no-tip policy might be responsible for the departure of some workers hired since it was implemented, he added.
Larry Hackenmiller, general manager of Interior CHARR, the local cabaret, hotel, restaurant and retailers association, said his organization has no position on whether restaurants should allow tipping or not.
But Hackenmiller, who works as a restaurant consultant in the Interior, wondered whether the quality of service would decline without tipping. He noted that competition in the restaurant industry often leads to better service -- and that service is driven by tips.
"It's a brave move on his part to try it," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "But it grinds me. It's like youth sports where everyone gets a trophy. I'm sorry, there's no recognition for talent there."
Jennifer Jolis, executive director of Bread Line Inc., operator of the Stone Soup Café, said service has always been excellent at Quist's café. Her organization collects the tips that get left behind. She said most weeks the organization gets between $100 and $300.
Jolis, who's worked in restaurants around the country, admitted that adjusting to no tips was jarring even for her. But her experience with Quist's café, and knowing the employees are being taken care of, has allowed her to embrace the idea.
"It's just a habit that we automatically look down and go, 'OK, we're going to add a tip,'" she said in a phone interview Thursday.
Quist said that while he sees the restaurant as "still having room to grow," he plans to continue going tip-free for the foreseeable future.
"Leading the trend sounds good," he said. "As long as were not too far ahead."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing