At their new H Street NE restaurant, Sally’s Middle Name, owners Sam and Aphra Adkins have decided to forgo the traditional gratuity system. Instead, an 18 percent “service charge” will be automatically added to every check. That money will be split evenly between front and back of the house employees.
“Having someone else determine your pay is not necessarily fair,” Aphra Adkins says. “It can be a little bit degrading.” She adds that many of their employees have families to support. “It’s not necessarily fair to not know how much is going to be in your paycheck and how you’re going to be able to pay your bills.”
No one at Sally’s Middle Name will make less than $10 per hour plus their share of the service charge. Aphra Adkins says she expects that to add up to more than she makes as an owner. The team is still trying to figure out what to do if diners do leave tips. They’re considering picking a charity to give it to. While there is no sign that says “no tipping,” servers will explain the service charge to guests. The restaurant will also offer retirement plans and, eventually, possibly health care as well.
Sally’s Middle Name is one of the first restaurants in D.C. to adopt this model, although it’s starting to catch on elsewhere. “Some people are doing it, and it seems to be doing really well,” Aphra Adkins says. “The employees seem a lot happier, there’s a lot less turnover in staff, and people report getting much better service.” Adkins also hopes that sharing the service charge with all employees will result in less tension between servers and kitchen staff. “This way, everyone is working toward the same goal,” she says.
A brewpub called the Public Option, coming to 1601 Rhode Island Ave. NE, also won’t accept tips. Instead of a mandatory service charge, the business plans to pay employees at least $15 per hour. If guests leave any extra cash, it will go to a charity of the staff’s choosing.
Aside from the unique no-tipping policy, Sally’s Middle Name also has a unique menu. Chef Sam Adkins, who’s worked at William Jeffrey’s Tavern, Cashion’s Eat Place, and Jackie’s, has a roster of seasonal small plates that will be listed on blackboard and white tile walls instead of on paper menus. Look out for dishes like rabbit poutine with goat cheese curds as well as spinach with miso butter and pickled rhubarb. Sam Adkins says as much as 20 to 60 percent of the menu will change day to day because they’re sourcing from local farms.
“We’re not afraid to run out of stuff,” Sam Adkins says. “We definitely have a big enough menu and enough stuff that you don’t have to worry about not having a selection when you come here. But some of the stuff, we may have just five or six of.”
One fixture of the menu, however, will be a slow-cooked chicken thigh with “New Bay” seasoning (Adkins’ take on Old Bay). You can also always count on ice cream on the menu. The flavors will rotate and currently include strawberry, dried cherry with Szechuan peppercorn, and dairy-free coffee “biscotti.”
Sally’s Middle Name doesn’t have its liquor license quite yet. For now, the restaurant will serve Maine Root sodas as well as housemade drinks like coffee horchata, blueberry shrub, and ginger limeade. There’s also Vigilante Coffee served in cute mismatched cups and saucers that line the wall. By next Wednesday, the restaurant plans to begin serving beer and wine. Eventually, they’ll likely have cocktails, too. The place will open for brunch on June 13.
Upstairs is a lifestyle and home goods boutique called Akae, which is separate from Sally’s Middle name, but that Aphra Adkins is involved in with Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang‘s wife Seda Nak. The shop, opening Wednesday, will sell a range of ceramics, jewely, and women’s clothing, including some that Adkins designs. Most of the products are handmade and fair trade. Akae will also double as a private events space for Sally’s Middle Name. A roof deck is also in the works.
As for how the restaurant got its name, it’s an inside joke between Sam Adkins and his sister, Sally. While he has a great middle name (Ulysses), but she doesn’t have one at all.
“When I was a kid—and I knew I wanted to own a restaurant pretty early on—I was like, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll just name my first restaurant Sally’s Middle Name,” Sam Adkins says. Then when people asked her if she has a middle name, she can say, “Yeah, it’s a little bistro in Washington, D.C.”
Take a look at the menu and space below:
Sally’s Middle Name 1320 H St. NE; (202) 750–6529; sallysmiddlename.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman