No tips? No thanks.

That’s what some Portland-area servers had to say about the new no-tipping policy that will start Dec. 1 at Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland and Tao Yuan in Brunswick. Others said they were skeptical, but would be willing to give the new policy a try.

Chef Cara Stadler, who owns the two restaurants with her mother, announced Tuesday that she was switching from a tips-based system to a service charge so she can offer better pay to her cooks and lure employees who are serious about making restaurant work a career.

Under the new system, servers will make a starting hourly wage of $15-$16, and customers will automatically be charged 18 percent of their pre-tax bill. Paid vacation and parental leave will be added to the health care coverage that already is offered to all employees.

Desiree Cofran, a 27-year-old server at Boone’s Fish House on Commercial Street, said if her employer offered her that deal, she would quit.

“I would absolutely leave the restaurant industry if that were my case,” she said. “It would be a huge pay cut for me.”

Desiree Cofran lights candles for tables before dinner Wednesday at Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room in Portland. She says she would quit if her employer eliminated tipping. “It would be a huge pay cut for me." Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Desiree Cofran lights candles for tables before dinner Wednesday at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room in Portland. She says she would quit if her employer eliminated tipping. “It would be a huge pay cut for me.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Cofran, who has worked as a server since she was 19, said a no-tipping policy might work for smaller restaurants, but not high-volume places like Boone’s. She said she can make about $30 an hour on average during a shift. She uses her earnings to pay for school – she’s studying business administration – and “I wouldn’t be able to go to school if I had to get a pay cut like that.

“Paid vacation would be beneficial for me, but it’s not a reason why I’m in the industry,” she said.

Sean Slaughter, who has been a server for 28 years and currently works at Sonny’s and Local 188, thinks having paid vacation would be “really cool.”

“If there’s paid vacation that would be awesome,” he said. “That’s something I’ve never had working at any restaurant.”

He’s less certain about the cut in pay. He said good servers with experience can make at least $25 an hour.

Sean Slaughter has been a server for 28 years and works at Sonny's and Local 188 in Portland. He said, “I know a lot of servers who say if I’m at a restaurant and I’m not averaging at least $20 an hour, then it’s not a good fit.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Sean Slaughter has been a server for 28 years and works at Sonny’s and Local 188 in Portland. He said, “I know a lot of servers who say if I’m at a restaurant and I’m not averaging at least $20 an hour, then it’s not a good fit.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I know a lot of servers who say, ‘If I’m at a restaurant and I’m not averaging at least $20 an hour, then it’s not a good fit,'” Slaughter said. “For me personally, I probably wouldn’t be happy with the $15 or $16 an hour, just because I feel like on an average good night I’d make more than that. But at the same time, it’s progress and it’s change and it’s just the way the world works. I think restaurants are starting to move that way in general. It will be a grand experiment.”

Slaughter, a musician who works three shifts a week and spends the rest of his time studying audio engineering, said if he were working for an establishment he was happy with, like he is now, and they wanted to give a no-tipping policy a try, he would “roll with it.”

AT BAO BAO, ON ‘FRONT END’ OF WAVE

What about people who will be directly affected by the new policy? As a bartender at Bao Bao Dumpling House, Hannah d’Errico will earn $16-$17 an hour under the new system instead of the $150-$250 a night she earns now. The change will definitely hurt financially, she said – “I’m not going to gloss over that” – but she’s willing to give it a try.

“It’s definitely going to be a cut in my income for sure, but I think in the long run it’s where the industry is headed,” she said. “There are other places that are doing it, and I think the way the federal tax structure is going, it’s only a matter of time. I think we’re just on the front end of the wave.”

D’Errico, who has worked in the industry for more than 15 years, said she has earned $16 an hour before and was able to pay her bills. She might have to make some adjustments to her budget, like not going out to eat as often, but for the time being she plans to stick with the restaurant group and “see how it plays out.”

Hannah d'Errico, 34, is a server at Bao Bao in Portland, where the owner recently announced that the restaurant will raise wages and adopt a no-tipping policy. “It’s definitely going to be a cut in my income for sure, but I think in the long run it’s where the industry is headed,” she said.

Hannah d’Errico, 34, is a server at Bao Bao in Portland, where the owner recently announced that the restaurant will raise wages and adopt a no-tipping policy. “It’s definitely going to be a cut in my income for sure, but I think in the long run it’s where the industry is headed,” she said. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Kristin Rouse, the bar manager at Bao Bao, is more enthusiastic about the change, calling it “awesome” and the way of the future. She said she’s not concerned about being able to pay her bills.

“It’s going to be a fair wage, and it’s going to be reliable,” she said. “Right now any industry worker on a slow night, you may not be able to count on having enough money to make your rent.”

Stadler’s move to add a surcharge and implement a no-tipping policy comes against a backdrop of a referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot that would raise Maine’s minimum wage incrementally from $7.50 to $12 an hour by 2020. Tipped workers don’t currently receive the minimum, but would be included if Question 4 passes, receiving $12 an hour by 2024.

Susanna Gleason, a 24-year-old Portland resident who is a server at both Bao Bao and Tao Yuan, has worked in restaurants off and on since she was 17. On a busy night at Bao Bao, she can make $20-$25 an hour. She said she’s always “felt weird” about the disparity in pay between front-of-house workers and back-of-house employees such as cooks.

“I think this is a really interesting way to even the playing field,” she said.

Tim Dubois, a server at Boone’s who is working to put himself through nursing school, thinks a no-tipping system would help servers who work in small towns in Maine. In big cities like Portland, he said, servers can make $30-$35 an hour and sock away summer tips to carry themselves through the winter season. Servers working in small, seasonal towns may have to struggle more to pay their bills in winter, and a service charge system might work better for them since it’s a steady paycheck.

Dubois likes the idea of “really working the table” and being rewarded with a large tip. But he sees the other side, too. With a no-tipping system, he said, “You don’t have to worry about someone stiffing you now. That really takes that pressure away. So there’s good and bad to it.”

VETERAN SERVER: NOT A GOOD IDEA

Martha Hutchins, however, says no tipping? No way.

Hutchins, a server at Boone’s, has worked in Portland, New York City, Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Austin, Texas, in all kinds of different situations. The reason she has stuck with the restaurant industry is she likes making big bucks in the summer so she can travel in the winter and pursue her passion – photography. One year, she spent four months of winter in Southeast Asia.

Eliminating tips, Hutchins said, “definitely would be too much of a pay cut for me.”

She also believes Maine’s seasonal restaurants would suffer under a surcharge system. Seasonal workers would go elsewhere for jobs, places where they could earn big tips.

“It would crush business, I think,” she said.