When the Farmhouse restaurant was reinvented and rebranded earlier this year as Thomas & Dutch, a major promotional point, besides the change to a more upscale menu, was the switch to a mandatory 20% service charge added to every bill.
While customers were free to go above 20% if they truly appreciated the service, the 20% fee was locked in as a minimum. Anything higher went directly to the individual server. The 20% fee was divided up.
Owner T.J. Callahan admitted the change was a risk, ” a little scary for a long-time restaurant guy like me,” he told Evanston Now at the time, because tipping has been a way of life in the hospitality business as long as anyone can remember, and probably longer than that.
However, Callahan said the mandatory service charge would actually mean more pay and better benefits for the service employees, who had previously relied on tips to get them above the “sub-minimum” wage legally allowed for servers.
Now, however, Thomas & Dutch has quietly gone back to the old way of doing things, according to a restaurant employee. No more mandatory 20% service charge. Tip as much or as little as you like.
The employee told Evanston Now that the service charge was dropped not because the employees didn’t like it, but rather, it was the customers.
Evanston Now has left messages for Callahan and for the restaurant’s general manager,but have not heard back.
However, while an upscale, downtown dining spot has returned to the tip model, a more casual, take-out/ food truck/catering establishment is going the other way.
Soul & Smoke, an award-winning barbecue spot, recently added an 8% service charge for take-out food at the counter on Payne Street and for pick-up/drop-off catering orders, and 18% for “food truck events and full-service catering,” according to a sign inside.
Soul& Smoke, which has a few picnic tables at its Evanston location, is remodeling the facility to add a 140-seat restaurant.
Owner Heather Bublick told Evanston Now that the 18% fee will also be part of those sit-down meals when the restaurant portion of the building opens, probably in early 2024.
Bublick said that “our staff shouldn’t have to work for tips,” and the service charges collected will be distributed among all employees, not just servers, based on the number of hours worked.
Unlike many eating establishments, Soul & Smoke provides “paid time off, health and dental insurance, retirement savings, and other ancillary benefits,” according to the website.
While the service charge has just been implemented in Evanston, Bublick said it’s been going well at Soul & Smoke’s other location, in the Avondale part of Chicago.
Both Chicago and Evanston governments are currently considering an end to the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees, providing them with the same minimum applied to other businesses.
Evanston City Council is scheduled to revisit the issue next month.
In the meantime, if you order at or from Soul & Smoke, and think a mandatory 18% or even 8% is unfair, the restaurant’s website says: “If you would like the service charge removed from your bill, please let us know.”