It's been a big month for Magpie. At the beginning of the month, they moved from their original R Street location to a new building at 16th & P.
Magpie instituted a new tipping system, the first restaurant in Northern California to institute this back of the house reward. I had a conversation with Magpie owner Ed Roehr on Sunday morning at Nido, and he helped provide the information for some of the answers below.
Q: So what Magpie's new tipping system?
A: In addition to the traditional system where a receipt lists the food and drink total and adds a line for a server gratuity, Magpie has added a line for a kitchen tip. The rationale is that while the front of the house staff has much to do with how satisfied with how a diner is, the kitchen staff/back of the house and the food they prepare also plays a role.
Q: Why don't restaurants just collect the tip and split it among the servers and kitchen staff?
A: In California, that's illegal. According to the California Restaurant Association's Web site, tips can only be pooled and distributed to those in the chain of service, not to the kitchen staff in the back of the house. Wait staff may voluntairly share their tips with the back of the house, but servers are still responsible for paying tax on that money before it gets gifted. If you're really interested in the nitty gritty of the topic, read this Nolo.com article on tipping.
Q: Why not just charge more for food and eliminate tipping?
A: One of the biggest problems with this is that the restaurant owner isn't required to pay his or her employees more. Diners may be paying 20% more for your food, you may not be leaving a tip at the end of the meal, but the restaurant staff isn't guaranteed a penny more in base wages than what they would make at a restaurant down the street.
Q: Where did Magpie get this idea from?
Q: Will I see this in other restaurants?
A: Other Sacramento restaurants are watching closely. Magpie says they've been contacted by several Sacramento restaurant owners, but they are taking a wait and see attitude. Should this experiment be successful, expect it to spread.
Q: So how much should I tip on each line?
A: Tipping is always voluntary. However, Magpie suggests that you add a buck or two to your bill to reward the kitchen staff. Here's a note they include with each bill:
Q: How is it working out thus far?
A: It's only been in effect for several weeks and the response has been all over the map. Some people aren't taking advantage of the opportunity to leave the kitchen a tip, some are tipping the same amount but redistributing it between the two lines, and there are some very generous people who are leaving the server tip the same and leaving a hefty kitchen tip too. It's too soon to draw conclusions from their data.
Q: How did the servers take it?
A: At first, there was a lot of apprehension, but after Magpie owners fully explained the concept, they say servers have started to come on board.
Q: What is this Nido you refer to in the intro?
A: Nido Cafe replaced Magpie at 14th & R. It's a cafe run by the same owners, serving breakfast and lunch only for now. I had a delicious biscuit, egg and bacon sandwich there on Sunday morning. It was like a delicious and from scratch version of the one you get at McDonald's when you're hung over.
Thanks again to Magpie owner Roehr for taking the time to talk to me and explain.
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