San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe eliminated tipping a year ago. Despite the recoil, it won’t bring them back.

More than a year after Zuni Café implemented a mandatory service charge in lieu of tips, restaurant owner Gilbert Pilgram said he has no plans to return to the previous model despite pushback from employees.

Several Zuni Café workers told the San Francisco Chronicle that the move has made it difficult to make ends meet without the help of tips and that they have “reached the point of discussing a strike or unionizing to put pressure on Zuni,” the Chronicle said. informed. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are owned by Hearst but operate independently.)

While pressure has prompted Pilgram to reassess the current model, he told the Chronicle that reinstating tipping was not an option. At this time, it is unclear what changes will be made to the surcharge, if any. SFGATE has contacted Zuni Café for comment but has not received a response at the time of publication.

“No restaurateur is interested in having a system that keeps any part of the restaurant unhappy. That’s a recipe for disaster,” owner Gilbert Pilgram told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The no-tipping policy has been controversial for Zuni Café employees since it was first adopted in 2021. When chef Nate Norris added a 20% service charge to customers’ tabs to replace tips , his goal then and now was to create a system that would alleviate pay inequity so that both front- and back-of-house workers could benefit.

“Much of my career, I would have seen [the pay equality gap] through the lens of a kind of bitterness and injustice, and I had some animosity toward staff members who were better compensated than I was, because of structural inequalities,” Norris told SFGATE last year. “…I’m not angry because the servers have been earning a good salary. It bothers me that we don’t have a system that makes it easy for house employees to also have that good salary.”

FILE — Zuni Cafe is located at 1658 Market St. in San Francisco. Employees are still frustrated by Zuni Cafe’s no-tipping rule, which was implemented in 2021.

Mademoiselleosaki/Mademoiselleosaki via Getty Im

For his part, Norris has worked hard to break down the divide between servers and house workers so tips are distributed fairly. He told the Chronicle that, in his experience, he has observed that servers see “that money as theirs.” But servers at Zuni Café told the Chronicle that the current system has taken its toll.

“I agree that the back-of-house deserves more money,” Kate Sachen, a waitress at Zuni Café, told the Chronicle. “We, the servers, are suffering a lot. A lot of us wish it would just go back to the old system.”

Last year, a former Zuni Café employee named Marshall C., who was granted anonymity under Hearst’s ethics policy, told SFGATE he was offered an hourly wage of $24 under the no-tipping policy. to return to Zuni Café. At the time of the settlement, Marshall had been laid off from Zuni Café amid the pandemic. He shared that he found the elimination of tips surprising and, after some thought, he decided to decline the offer when he reasoned that he would not be able to pay rent or other personal expenses. (Norris later told SFGATE that the starting wage of $24 an hour was not representative of all offers.)

Marshall added that seven front-desk workers allegedly turned down offers based on tip elimination. Additionally, the Chronicle found that Zuni Café has retained fewer servers compared to chefs during the pandemic, with only three of the previous 23 servers remaining on board.

Norris told the Chronicle that he’s not sure if the drop in servers was a direct result of the no-tipping rule, especially since so many people have left the hospitality industry or moved out of state. He added that the restaurant is currently fully staffed.

Following the Chronicle report, Zuni Café shared an Instagram post Thursday saying it knew eliminating tipping would create challenges and provide an opportunity to learn from the change.

“We remain committed to the goals of paying living wages and benefits that reflect the value of work and engaging our community as we work to ensure we achieve these goals,” Zuni Café wrote.