Halifax restaurant says goodbye to tips, raises wages for staff

·3 min read

When Halifax's newest ramen restaurant opens Thursday there will be one thing missing: tips.

Jamie MacAulay, owner of Coda Ramen on Gottingen Street, said staff at his restaurant will instead be paid higher wages, roughly $17 to $22 an hour, and receive health benefits.

The new tipless system will mean more consistent income for staff and works out to be "significantly higher" than minimum wage plus tips, according to MacAulay.

In an industry that's known for relying on tips and underpaying employees, he sees it as a way to help staff during an uncertain time.

"We really think like this is the progressive future for the industry," MacAulay told CBC's Information Morning.

Menu prices at the restaurant will be raised slightly to account for the change, MacAulay said, but he added that it won't cover all that's lost.

"We take the hit on the end as the business owners but our goal is that it'll create a more professional environment for our staff and we'll generate long-term professionals that stay with us," he said.

Jamie MacAulay
Jamie MacAulay

MacAulay used to own Water and Bone on Charles Street in Halifax's north end, but closed the ramen restaurant last spring after the pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia and decimated the service industry.

"It's been really tough on everyone so we said if we're going to do this again that we should really look at changing the model that works better for our staff," he said.

MacAulay said senior cooks and staff at Coda Ramen will earn a living wage, which is $22/hour in Nova Scotia, and new staff will gradually work up to that amount.

If a customer doesn't like the service they're getting or the food they're eating, MacAulay said that shouldn't be reflected in how much money staff make.

"That's something that falls on us as business owners. If we're not accomplishing that, if we're not putting that product out and that service then we need to work on that so our staff shouldn't have to suffer in their wages," he said.

It's a move restaurants elsewhere in Canada have already taken or are considering. In Toronto, three restaurants signed on to a pledge this summer to end tipping and instead price it in to the cost of meals.

But in Edmonton, the owners of the city's first no-tipping restaurant abandoned the idea after about a year, saying the system was "untenable."

Before Coda Ramen decided to go tipless, MacAulay asked staff and people on social media what they thought of the idea and said the response was "overwhelmingly positive."

Still, he admits the new direction will likely come with a few challenges. Right now, he sees it as an experiment.

"The first one through the door is always the bloodiest," he said. "It's going to be a lot of challenges and a lot of things to work out but we're hoping that, you know, with our following of loyal guests and customers that everyone's on board with this to help make it work."