by: Graham Johnson Updated:
At Brand 158 in Glendale, California, we found couples and colleagues and full tables of ladies who lunch.
"The food is amazing, the service is amazing, and the no tipping is amazing," said customer Hourie Boghossian.
That's right: no tipping.
When the check comes, there's a message at the bottom.
"We do not accept tips. Our reward is when you come back," it reads.
The servers are bustling, but not hustling.
"We don't want it to be a sales environment," said restaurant owner Gabriel Frem. "We want the nurturing environment."
Frem says at a traditional restaurant, waiters feel pressure to steer patrons toward pricey dishes and drinks so they'll leave a bigger tip.
"We don't have to treat everybody like baby Shamu, every time you go around the pool we've got to throw you a fish otherwise you don't go again. I mean, that's not the model we want here," Frem said.
His model is to pay workers more.
"We like to stabilize the lives of our employees so they can focus on our guests," he said.
Janae McDonald makes $20 per hour as a bartender. Skeptical at first, she's now sold on the no-tip model after spending four years mixing drinks elsewhere. Tip money might roll in on busy weekend nights, but rarely during Monday lunch.
"At other restaurants they send you home if it's slow," said server Tiara Gazarian.
She makes around $15 per hour, works full-time and earn benefits. When the restaurant's slow, she does other tasks, like passing out promotional flyers around the neighborhood. And, she says, the no-tip policy changes how she relates to co-workers.
"When you don't have tips you don't have that cattiness," Gazarian said. "It creates a teamwork environment. We're all ‘What do you need? Do you need help with this? Let me go fill those drinks for you.’”
The prices at Brand 158 are about what you'd expect at a restaurant like this. Gabriel Grem says he likes to keep most menu items below $30.
"We haven't felt that we've had to raise our prices to accommodate our business model," Frem said.
The restaurant looks for other ways to cut costs, like taking orders directly on tablet computers. That saves a trip to a computer station and means fewer servers are needed on the floor. Frem also discourages customers from paying in cash. Handling bills is a logistical complication.
"Everything that bogs you down creates cost and I'd rather cut the costs with smart strategies than shift the risk to my employees," Frem said.
The absence of paper money also eliminates tip temptation.
"I actually offered and they would not accept it," diner Judy Goldstock said.
She was was worried about the servers when she first heard about the policy.
"We thought well, how do your staff survive? And they said 'we pay them well and we thought, oh wow," Goldstock said.
The restaurant opened in December. Goldstock has now dined there 10 times in five months.
"Forget the money, I don't have to do the math! It's great," Goldstock said. "I wish everybody was like that where they paid their servers a living wage."