Thomas & Dutch restaurant downtown.

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.

Sign at Soul & Smoke announcing the shift to mandatory service charges.

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.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. The U.S. is long overdue to switch to a European system where servers are paid 20% more, meals cost 20% more and there is nominal tipping. But doing it at the city level makes no sense. Mr. Pink would agree!

  2. I have mixed feelings about the service charges replacing tipping. I waited tables and occasionally took shifts in the back of house frequently for extra money. I do this for nearly 7 years while putting myself through school, so I have sympathy for folks working in this industry. And while I know many, like me, will go on to other careers, not everyone will have the same opportunities.

    But I also have an issue with “our staff shouldn’t have to work for tips”. I think that says a ton about the mindset of many these days. I worked my rear off to earn better tips. And I worked my rear off to earn, not be given, the best opportunities from the restaurant owners/managers so I could get the best shifts/sections/events to maximize my income. Others didn’t work so hard and some gave very poor service at times. While not perfectly fair each time, folks mostly got what they deserved.

    I’m abstracting a lot from that one line I know, but I suppose my point is I hope we don’t lose the merit based rewards system(s) entirely. In a recent trip abroad the no (or very low) tipping system worked mostly well. But a couple of meals were all but ruined with very poor service and without tipping there wasn’t much incentive for better service.

  3. Like JP I once worked in restaurants and understand the low wages, hard work and reliance on tip income. My dad always used to say you start at 30% tip and take away 5% for each instance of poor service. He also recommended increasing the tip for small (say 2 people) parties as it takes almost as much time and effort for a party of two as for a party of 4. I always liked that and it always seemed to work. Great service got 30% which seems more than fair and closer to 50% for a party of 2. Don’t think there are many servers who would object to this. It also let me avoid feeling bad when I got horrible service and left $1.
    My primary objection, though, is charge billing machines defaulting to a tip for things like carry out/pick up. Just yesterday the charge machine at Bennison’s tried to get me to tip for a bag with a donut. No service involved but it still wanted a tip. What’s next? Will I get asked to tip for a candy bar at 7-11?

  4. My partner and I have always tipped generously, well beyond 20%. We both come from lower income families and truly appreciate the efforts of restaurant workers.

    The European “tip built in” system doesn’t work. Why work harder, why be friendlier if you get the same $$ as a lazy, mean coworker?

    Why did the owners of this restaurant believe that they were morally teaching us (the most extreme progressive town on n the Midwest) something new? Sorry, but Behavioral Economics sorted this out decades ago.

    I’m liberal and gay, but never stepped foot into this restaurant when I heard about their attempt at social engineering’.

    I do applaud this restaurant for opening in the scary vagrancy zone on Church, where multiple non-Evanston vagrants have violated social norms in ncluding repeated encampments in doorways.

    Now that this restaurant has quietly quit the woke nonsense, we’ll try it out!

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