William Street Common: Indoor beer garden, flat tipping

William Street Common, 3900 Chestnut St.

Restaurateur Avram Hornik has had great success of late in the great outdoors with the seasonal Morgan’s Pier, Winterfest, and the 2013 PHS Pop Up Garden on Broad Street.

Could he take the same beer-garden approach - simple, family friendly, solid food, drinks - indoors?

He has reconfigured his Drinker's West, a vast bar-restaurant at 3900 Chestnut St. in University City, into the more communal William Street Common. (William Street was the name of 39th Street in the olden days.)

You order at the counter - David Gilberg's menu is fairly simple (including a 12-inch hot dog, an eggplant parm sandwich, a BBQ short rib sandwich, pork belly fries, pierogies, warm pretzel bites) - and sit under twinkling light bulbs at enormous tables made from old steel doors.

There's a smaller barroom off the main door, as well. (An arcade is on the way, too.)

You fetch your own coffee mug from dozens lining a wall and pour your own coffee. When your food is ready, staff will find you by a table marker (not a number but a child's flash card with a drawing of an animal).

Hornik also has added another interesting facet - a riff on the so-called no-tipping policies that are making the rounds.

This is not by any means a "no-tip" restaurant. Customers pay a flat 20 percent (plus sales tax) and the house will match that 20 percent to fund the labor.

William Street Common's minimum wage for all employees is $15 an hour - a bump for kitchen workers and roughly average for front-of-the-house bar employees (assuming tips are reported). After the minimum wages are paid out from the 40 percent, the remainder is divided among staff through a points system - better employees can make a bonus. An additional 5 percent of sales is directed to employees for benefits and perks.

When you consider that in many similar restaurants labor costs are 40 percent of gross sales, the numbers begin to make sense. The customers and management are, in one way of looking at it, splitting the salaries.

Each beer, draft wine or cocktail is $5. The house adds the 20 percent tip plus 10 percent sales/drink tax, and the total is $6.60.

What if a customer wants to leave an additional tip? "We won't allow it," said Meredith Setzman, who manages the company's marketing.

On weekends (except for March 7 and 14, when the Erin Express will stop), William Street Common runs a brunch special that includes three drinks, an entree from the brunch menu, and unlimited coffee and donuts for the table, for $22.33 - which ends up at $28.58 with the tax and service charge.

Right now, William Street Common is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, till 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and for brunch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; there's no Sunday dinner. The bar is open till 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday.

A cafe - essentially sandwiches and lighter fare available at the bar - will start soon and run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.