Why not avoid tipping and service charges altogether, and simply raise menu prices? Several owners offered the same answer: People don’t want to pay more for food.
There would have to be a broader shift in how Americans perceive dining out for customers to accept higher prices, said Evan Leichtling, the owner of Off Alley, a Seattle restaurant with a 20 percent service charge. “Going out to a restaurant is a luxury,” he said. “It is not meant to be something you do every day.”
The unwillingness to pay more intensifies at restaurants serving non-Western food, said Christina Nguyen, the chef and a co-owner of Hai Hai, a Southeast Asian restaurant in Minneapolis with a 20 percent service charge. “With our style of food, there is sadly a ceiling there,” she said.
Ms. Nguyen said the service charge has gone over well with her employees, who make between $18 and $42 an hour. She gave them the option to switch back to a tip model, and they voted to keep the 20 percent service charge.
Tipping, however, is deeply entrenched in American dining culture, said Ann Hsing, the chief operating officer of Pasjoli in Santa Monica, Calif., which has a 15 percent service charge and no tip line on receipts.