Even though he came up in professional kitchens starting as a line cook, Ron Hsu didn’t internalize the implicit inequity and racism of the tipped wage system until he became a restaurant owner, in 2019. The Atlanta-based chef/owner of award-winning tasting menu restaurant Lazy Betty, along with Asian-Southern Juniper Cafe and the forthcoming chef-driven pizzeria Humble Pie decided instead to institute the federal minimum wage and a service-charge model at his restaurants.
It’s come with pushback — not just from some customers but from waitstaff reluctant to embrace change or loath to face confrontation with skeptical consumers. But he’s determined to be part of the — oft-maddeningly slow — change in what he sees as a deeply problematic system.
It’s a hot take I can’t get off my mind: Last July, Grub Street’s Chris Crowley argued that anyone who can afford to eat out during a pandemic can afford to tip at least 50 percent, contending “it’s the bare minimum you can do if you decide you must eat a burger al fresco or get tacos delivered.”
That percentage haunts me. Before reading it, I considered myself a generous tipper—usually leaving between 20 and 25 percent in restaurants. I tipped baristas and food trucks and have even returned to tables covertly to throw down extra money after watching stingier friends tip 10 percent to the penny.