When Sally’s Middle Name opened in spring 2015, its owners Sam and Aphra Adkins had an ambitious goal of turning the restaurant tipping system upside down. Instead of leaving gratuity up to the customer, an 18 percent service charge was added to every bill.
Aphra told Y&H that that traditional tipping system “can be a little bit degrading” and that “it’s not necessarily fair to not know how much money is going to be in your paycheck and how you’re going to be able to pay your bills.” With her employees’ best interests in mind, Adkins was paying her workers a higher wage instead of leaving things up to chance.
It’s a business decision that restaurants across the country are considering and implementing with mixed results, according to the Chicago Tribune and NPR. Sally’s Middle Name jumped ship in August when they reopened after a renovation that added an upstairs dining room.
Aphra explains that it wasn’t the customers who demanded a change. “Everyone who came in liked it. Only one or two people who came in voiced some sort of disagreement with the system.” Rather, Aphra says going back to a traditional model is the best way to ensure everyone involved is “taken care of.”
“Part of it is we didn’t know who our primary employees were going to be,” Aphra says. “A big part of our model was built on assuming that people would prefer a set salary, and I think that’s a big assumption to make. We do have employees who have been with us from the beginning who prefer that standard paycheck, but you can’t always assume that. Some people prefer to take the risk of not knowing [how much they’re going to make].”
She further explains that it can take a while to build a strong customer base as a new restaurant, and at times, the farm fresh eatery wasn’t busy enough to warrant paying higher than normal wages. “Maybe when we’re busier all the time, it’ll be easier to maintain that amount of payroll,” she says, confirming that she hasn’t ruled out switching back. “We found it wasn’t working for us at that time, but we may look at other ways in the future.”
The restaurant just launched an expanded fall menu featuring an addictive roasted squash dish dressed up in green curry with coconut milk, jasmine rice, kaffir lime, thai basil, and cilantro. Another dish the restaurant is proud of is the house made parsley pappardelle with vegetable bolognese. Instead of meat, the hearty sauce is made from mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, miso, and whole milk.
Crazed fans of “Fried Chicken Wednesdays” can rest easy knowing the tradition will carry on. Diners can order a fried chicken dinner with three pieces of chicken and changing seasonal sides for $17.
Sally’s Middle Name, 1320 H St. NE; (202) 750-6529; sallysmiddlename.com