What used to be the Farmhouse, at the corner of Church and Orrington in downtown Evanston, is now, in the words of owner Thomas (TJ) Callahan, “a completely new restaurant.”
Thomas & Dutch opened for business Wednesday night, with a more upscale menu, a bigger focus on wine, and a more sophisticated interior design than its predecessor at the same location.
Plus, there’s something else that’s new to Evanston: a mandatory, 20 percent fixed service charge added to each bill. The money, Callahan says, will provide service employees with more pay and better benefits, such as an improved 401(k) and upgraded health care.
Customers will not be taken by surprise. The service charge, and the reasons behind it, are explained on reservation confirmation emails, on the restaurant’s website, on the menu and on a card placed on each table.
Customers are free to voluntarily go above 20 percent, with that extra amount going to their particular server. But the required service fee is divided up.
“We’re trying to do what we can to make sure that all of our people get a living wage,” he says.
The guaranteed minimum hourly pay rate for servers will almost double, to $13.35. Plus, there is that chance of additional tips.
Callahan says adding the service charge is “a little scary for a long-time restaurant guy like me,” because tipping has been a way of life in food service basically forever, at least in the U.S.
But Callahan says the history of tipping is actually a sad story, a practice which has been “racist, sexist, ‘look-ist,’ and with no correlation to the quality of service.”
“We’re going to try to break up the model,” he adds.
Service chages, Callahan notes, are common in Europe, along with a few restaurants in larger American cities like Chicago and New York.
But not in Evanston. At least, not until now.
Callahan says a lot of his employees from Farmhouse have stuck with him and are now at Thomas & Dutch.
Callhan opened Farmhouse in 2012, then closed it for the remake late last year.
“The world has dramatically changed from what the restaurant field was like in 2012,” he says.
“It was time to rethink it, from soup to nuts.”
Callahan says that “we think there’s an opportunity for a truly top shelf, sophisticated restaurant in Evanston,” because while there are still some upscale dining establishments in town, there are not as many as before.
Plus, there is new, upscale competition in nearby Wilmette and Winnetka.
As if to confirm Callahan’s sense of upscale demand, he said the top seller on Thomas & Dutch’s first night was Beef Wellington.
The “Dutch” in “Thomas & Dutch” is an old nickname for business partner Ferdia Doherty.
Some of the food Callahan serves comes from his 140 acre Brown Dog Farm in Wisconsin.
The restaurant is open for dinner now, but will add lunch and brunch in the near future.
Callahan says downtown Evanston has both opportunities and challenges, and he’s aware of both as he opens a new establishment.
“I expect us to be THE place to go in Evanston,” he says.
In other words, these owners don’t want to pay a living wage with tips being above that, and expect tips to cover their burden. If customers don’t show up its their workers who suffer. Having lived in other countries where you don’t tip and wait staff are paid a living wage, I’m amused by the spin the owners are putting on this as though they are great guys.
No, having this policy actually costs owners considerably more and is what allows them to pay a living wage. One of the primary drivers behind it is the ability to then share the tipping pool with “back of the house” (i.e. kitchen staff). If you rely on customer tips, oftentimes waiters make good money during busy times but it’s against the law for owners to then divvy up a portion of the tips to kitchen staff. So, having the 20% service charge is a way to make it more equitable. Many expensive restaurants in NY have a hard time retaining quality cooks among their staff because those cooks realize they can make a lot more money being waiters.
The 20% service charge though, requires owners to pay additional employee benefits and taxes like they’re W2 employees whereas tipped workers are exempt.
Google Lula Cafe in Chicago service charge for a long explanation as to why they do it and mechanics behind it. It’s becoming more popular in NY and Chicago but is still not that prevalent as it’s actually typically a bad business move from an owner financial perspective.
I am in favor of it and applaud the owners for taking this stance. You could also just think of it as menu items costing 20% more with no tips needed if that helps the mental gymnastics of it.
Looking forward to visiting the space.
Would be easier and more efficient to assure a living wage by just increasing the salaries and benefits.
I’m curious to see how that 20% charge can sustain in this economy. What a world the owner lives in. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Adding the service charge is wonderful news. I hope other restaurants follow and that this helps Evanston becomes a city known for treating restaurant workers respectfully.
This is a good news/bad news thing. I can’t wait to eat here, but Farmhouse had the best burger in Chicagoland.
Will not be going there! I usually tip ATLEAST 20%, but I’m not going to have someone make me do that!!!!
The history of tipping has been “racist, sexist and look-ist” with no correlation to the quality of service? Give me a break! Many diners are just cheap tippers. That said, I support a service charge if it helps servers attain a living wage. How about leaving it at that!
A tip nowadays has nothing to do with back then. It has to do with the quality of service. If they are lousy server (which I’ve had a few in my days), they are lucky to get a 3% tip. I understand there are circumstances where the server has no control over certain issues and I take that into account. If you see this is a problem, then maybe you should rally restaurant owners to give them a decent hourly wage and let its customer decide the percentage of the tip? 😉
I tip well having worked in a restaurant many years, but I want the option to tip what I want, and less than the mandated 20% if the service isn’t good. I tip on the service, not those other things the owner mentioned.
If you are forcing people to “tip 20%” it is no longer a tip; it is a 20% price increase. Why not just charge 20% more and don’t call it a tip? If I receive bad service, I need to be confrontational, try to negotiate a discount and make a bad situation worse. Will the staff work as hard and provide good service if they know they get the 20% tip without it?
Obviously the proprietor has a lot of experience and knows what issues tend to grate over time. I’ve never run a restaurant but do know those who have and understand it’s a very, very difficult business… Think farming mixed with artist where you pour your heart and soul into something you love yet there are other forces that often challenge you not to pull out every hair on your head. I believe the 20% option will just help the business keep some of their hair, which will allow space for the artists to be creative so they don’t actually have to get a second job actually working at the donut factory that offers benefits for their family.
This is a reality for many businesses day, after day, after day… or GMTDS “gotta make the donuts syndrome”.
Evanston needs quality dining experiences and believe this will be a great option in the quiver and applaud whenever the entrepreneurial spirit is breaking new ground. Hopefully, they can also reach a new standard where the people who deserve a living wage also understand that solid service is fair to expect but that the silod egomaniac sitting at the table should also check “it” at the door.
Fyi, I have no relationship with this particular situation and am just offering an interested perspective
Nice try, and I wish them luck.
My wife and I choose restaurants for the quality of the food, the service, the ambience. We’re fortunate to have worked careers where we have good pensions now. Dining out, regardless of the price and the destination, should be yummy and pleasant. We are fine with paying 20% more or whatever in the basic prices on the menu.
Service charge? Maybe over and above adjusted prices to assure living wage. We often tip 25 – 35% regardless of service or quality of food. We try to be as friendly and inclusive of our wait staff without dominating their time. Pleasant thank yous as they bring us stuff, and maybe a few words of interest early or during the meal. We figure treat all as we’d want to be treated.
My wife and I join maybe a dozen others for breakfast at a mom & pop cafe after early Mass on Sunday mornings. I’ll typically hand the lead waiter an additional $20 bill when we get coffee refills, and for sure way at the beginning when we ask them to shove together a few tables for our small crowd. We linger longer than many tables for two or families. We’re regulars and each of us orders a full breakfast and we tip well when we pay up front.
I figure if we want to have a good experience, we need to make sure the staff can enjoy the knowledge that they’re getting more, much more than might be expected.
Dining out and tipping are something we all need to think about. We plan ahead and keep plenty of cash in our pockets to give them the lagniappe they deserve.
Good article, Mr. Hirsch.
WHAT THE HECK?!? So basically the wait stuff can be lousy and still receive a 20% tip??? Yeah, will not be going there.
*You don’t have to tip anybody, anywhere, anything. You do so only because you want to, in appreciation for a service well-rendered!
I personally wasn’t craving another “more upscale” dining option close to home. Farmhouse was already almost more than I could afford…;-(
In the service industry (such as at a restaurant), a service charge is a mandatory extra charge that is added to a bill, while a gratuity (also known as a tip) is a voluntary amount that a customer may choose to add to a bill.
13.35 is not a living wage in Evanston. Most waiters make way more than 13-14 an hour. This means even if you get poor service you are charged for it. Tips used to be 15% then 18% now it’s a service charge? The prices are already keeping up with inflation which lets servers keep up as well, why don’t you do what they do in Europe and just include it in the price. That would be much more palatable.
Check out the NYC restaurant that has NO tipping!! Just another angle. Good luck Thomas & Dutch!! We like to tip for good service.
Nope. Won’t be visiting this establishment. We live downtown and eat out (and tip well) at least 3-4 times a week.
Thomas isn’t doing anything to make sure his employees or as he says,” our people ” get a living wage. It isn’t coming out of his pocket. Realistically, the customer is the employer and provider of income for the server. I tip 20% on the check total, tax included. But I don’t if I have a surly server, we all know that server. The one who gets friendly when it’s time to present the check. Fortunately, if I want to eat in Evanston, I have plenty of choices. Wow! I just looked at the dessert menu. $16. for a slice of cheesecake or $24. for a slice of chocolate cake?
Leave a comment