Can Your Small Business Change the Culture? Here’s One That’s Trying

restaurant waiter public domainIn many ways, culture is when a group of people share the same habits. When you are raised within a certain culture, you don’t recognize those habits until you’re dumped into a culture that practices a different set of habits.

Today’s question is: Can one small business change the culture?

Owners of Bar Marco in Pittsburgh are eliminating tipping at their restaurant. Instead, they are starting their employees at $35,000 a year for a 40-44 hour work week and giving health benefits and 500 shares of stock in the business.

In the restaurant, all of those moves could be considered “countercultural.”

We are so accustomed to tipping in the United States that we think it’s just part of eating in a restaurant. However, there are plenty of countries where a service charge is added to the bill. For locals in those countries, having to calculate a tip in a US restaurant seems odd.

The value of no tipping

But will the Bar Marco plan fly with customers? Co-founder Bobby Fry admits that some prices will go up to cover the higher wages and that brings part of the problem into focus. When new and existing customers compare restaurants and look at prices, will the value of a no-tipping policy at Bar Marco offset some higher prices?

I need to add that Fry told the local media that higher prices will be accompanied by higher quality food, or what he calls a more “complex” menu. The restaurant is also expanding service in its popular Wine Room – an intimate setting that that only seats 10 – as a way to boost revenue.

Will patrons notice the higher prices and react negatively? It seems to be our nature to internalize prices before other charges are added on. That’s why airlines put up such a fuss when the government moved to make them include fees when they post their fares. Higher up-front prices discourage buying.

The personal power of tipping

The no-tipping policy also takes away some of the perceived power restaurant patrons believe they wield. Many enjoy the monetary “pat on the back” they can give by leaving a generous tip. I suppose some also like using a smaller tip as a way to say, “Treat customers better!” The democracy of that system will be lost.

If you have spent time in countries where a standard service charge is added to restaurant bills, would you say the service is better, worse or about the same? That would be an interesting survey to conduct.

One group that probably doesn’t mind the new policy at Bar Marco is the restaurant’s competitors. They may see the higher prices as a kind of price-point unilateral disarmament. Further, if Bar Marco’s venture into the untested world of no-tipping in US restaurants proves successful, there is nothing stopping them from following suit.

And while I would probably give slight odds that the policy will not make it in the long haul, I think it’s a great example of a small business willing to try something new for the growth of the business and the well being of its employees. Succeed or fail, the owners of Bar Marco recognize the value of their team and also understand that giving them a stake in the business will motivate many and encourage their loyalty.

Is a new group of brand ambassadors about to be created at Bar Marco?

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