Change in law leads to new ‘kitchen service’ fee at popular local restaurant

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When going to a restaurant, it’s customary to tip for good service.

At one popular local restaurant in Kakaako, however, the question of how much to tip is something servers are taking some extra time to explain.

If you go out to eat at Highway Inn, you’ll notice something different on your receipt in the form of three options.

One of them is 10 percent, and that’s because Highway Inn president and CEO Monica Toguchi says for her restaurants, 10 percent is the new 15.

“A lot of restaurants around the country are playing around with the idea of no tipping,” she said, “but we really felt like the customer would want to know what the price of their food is, not embed that price into the food cost.”

Because of a Ninth Circuit Court decision that says only traditionally tipped employees like servers can share in tip pools, cooks could now lose out on hundreds of dollars every paycheck.

That’s why Toguchi decided to add a five-percent kitchen service charge to the bill.

“We felt that the five-percent service charge was a fair service charge, and then whatever remaining, whether that’s 10 percent or 15 percent that the customer wanted to leave, we thought that would be a fair compromise for our customers to our servers and back-of-house staff.”

So what do the customers think?

Moana Eisele says the chefs in the back are more than deserving. “I think that everybody, in every kitchen, especially someplace like this place, the food is so ono, everybody deserves some part of that.”

Anne Russell, another diner at Highway Inn, agrees: “I thought it was great for them to be proactive and explain it before we had to even ask. I think that the kitchen people are the ones who do the work to make the ono food, so that seems fair.”

When asked about the kitchen service charge, the Hawaii Restaurant Association said in a statement that some restaurants are doing away with tipping, and some are adding service charges to the check. As a restaurant’s operating expenses go up, they have to either find a way to cover costs or close their doors for good.

Toguchi also said that with the new minimum wage increases, she could be looking at a close to a $70,000-increase in just wages alone.

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