Over the past few months, The Standard has learned that people have a lot to say about tipping—in San Francisco, the broader Bay Area and beyond.
For some readers, it appears that modern changes on when they're asked to tip—and where—may have gotten somewhat stressful.
But fear not. We’ve surveyed everyone from bartenders to Uber drivers about when, where and how much gratuity is appropriate in various settings. While customs and expectations differ by profession, most service industry employees we interviewed agreed that it's hard to imagine making ends meet in the Bay Area without these voluntary customer contributions.
That goes a long way in explaining why a growing number of local restaurants have ditched the tipping model entirely in favor of a flat service charge.
Several businesses, including Bar Agricole and Comal, pioneered a movement to go tip-free in 2014. Though some of these establishments later reinstituted tipping, fine-dining outfits like Zuni Café renewed the tip-free wave in 2021 when the city returned to in-person dining following Covid quarantine.
Across the board, these business owners reported that the tipless policy is designed to create a more stable, livable wage for employees across the restaurant—from the hosts to the dishwashers.
Since then, fancy and fast-casual restaurants alike throughout the Bay Area have followed suit. In addition to equalizing wages, the service fee has an added benefit to customers, who now don’t have to worry about calculating gratuity at the end of a meal.
Here is a short list of local joints that have gone tip-free.
Cole Valley, SF
📍 941 Cole St.
In 2015, this cozy brunch spot became an early adopter of what's known as “the tip-free movement.” Rather than apply a flat surcharge, Zazie raised its prices across the board, and 25% of every menu item is paid out to the entire restaurant staff as a stable wage and revenue-sharing system.
Alex, a server who requested to go by his first name only, told The Standard that customers are welcome to leave an extra cash tip.
📍 1801 McAllister St.
Though its name might suggest otherwise, Automat is not a vending machine but an all-day cafe with a mesmerizing selection of baked goods. The restaurant has instituted a 20% service charge, and additional gratuity is welcome but not expected. After June 24, Automat will be eliminating dinner service and reopening as a breakfast and lunch spot.
Civic Center, SF
📍 39 Fell St.
A tipple is a cocktail—not a gratuity—and accordingly, this jazz club serves a stiff drink, but you won’t find a line on the check for tips. Instead, a 20% service fee is paid out to all hourly employees who are on the clock that night.
📍 1358 N. Main St.
This farm-to-table bistro bridges the gap between the rural land to the east and the bay waters to the west. Like other local establishments, Main Street Kitchen & Bar applies a 20% auto-gratuity to each bill. The restaurant website notes that the owners aim to provide employees “a guaranteed wage to go home with every day” and customers will notice a line on each bill assuring them this charge does not go to the owners.
Mission and Ferry Building, SF
📍 2901 Mission St. | 1 Ferry Plaza #19
Chef Reem Assil’s acclaimed Arab diasporic kitchen maintains a 20% “workers’ resilience service charge,” which is distributed to all employees, including bakers. JJ Cital, a server at the Mission District location told The Standard that cash tips are welcome, as well.
“Cash is always king,” they said, noting that workers have historically relied on untaxed cash tips to supplement a low wage.
“Now that we’ve moved toward this system where all tips are taxed, tips are more stable,” they said. “But moving away from a cash economy eventually hurts the workers.”
Ultimately, Cital said they’re glad Reem’s has remained tipless.
“It’s good to work at a restaurant where transparency is valued,” they said. “We believe every worker here is equal, so they should get equal tips.”
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