Coffee Commissary is wading into the Great Tipping Debate, albeit tenuously, with a new plan put forth at their Burbank store that equalizes both front and back of house work. Owner Tyler King operates other locations on Fairfax, Hollywood and Palms, but has worked with employees to change the tip format for the Burbank outlet thanks to its unique setup as both a counter service restaurant and standard coffee bar.
Burbank contains a kitchen that serves everything from avocado toast to brisket and egg burritos in addition to the usual run of pourover coffees and lattes, which means more back of house workers are already interacting with customers on the floor —by expediting food, clearing tables, handing out silverware, and so on. Yet since opening two years ago, only the front of hours workers —the baristas who double as order takers at the counter — have been getting tipped out. And with per-ticket tip percentages hovering between 15% and 20% per transaction, King felt that the back of the house may not be getting a fair shake.
King felt that the back of the house may not be getting a fair shake
The new model King devised is ultimately little more than a conscripted tip pool, but with funds split equally amongst every person who works that day, regardless of role. That means the line cook gets tipped the same rate as the baristas and the dishwasher. For customers, there’s no change whatsoever: no new tip line, no forced service charge. Just tip what you’d like and know that the money is split evenly amongst everyone you see (and don’t see) who works at the restaurant.
Of course, there has been an adjustment period. King admits that some employees have left and others took some convincing, but ultimately he believes the model is working — and could continue to work at any of his other outlets, should those also add on a kitchen element at some point in the future.
Because the customer is encouraged to tip like normal, there’s no need for the sticky discussions of payment and taxation that follow the tipping debate around like a lost dog. And, King says, for those who work with him and believe in the system, a steady income and living wage are the new reality, not a pipe dream for line cooks making $9 an hour.
Of course this is all well and good for now, but even King admits that things will get tougher once $15 an hour minimum wage hits Los Angeles. But he’s not trying to solve the problem himself with one coffee shop location in Burbank. Mostly, King is just trying to help everyone equally.