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Apr 7, 2005 03:44 PM

O Captain My Captain

  • p

Not to come off as a total rube, but I went to Le Bernardin yesterday for a birthday lunch and when we received the bill there was a line for a general tip and then a line for a tip for the Captain. We didn't have any wine and were waited on by three people--a man who took our order, a waiter and a bus boy. We inquired about the gentleman who took our order and whether he was the Captain, but weren't completely clear on the response we got. I haven't encountered the Captain tip line at other 4 star places, and was just wondering if anyone could shed some light. Thank you.

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  1. j
    Jim Washburn

    I had the exact same experience in the exact same place in 1986. Never saw that before or since. Never been in that classy a place before or since, either. I had no idea what to do, so I winged it. I didn't do the right thing, but I'm confident they worked it out. The rule of thumb is 5 per cent to the captain, 15 per cent to the waiters. I do hope to make it to Le Bernardin again someday so I can tip properly next time.


    2 Replies
      1. re: Jim Washburn

        ditto, 2002, and not since then. I was clueless and left 25% on the waiter line and 0 on the captain line. (so I look like a rube but not an a**hole, hopefully) I wasn't even sure who the captain was. The maitre d' got me an autograph from Ripert, so I should have tipped him, I was unsure if he was also called captain or not. Really, it seems they should just do it like everywhere else and split the tips, it would cause less angst.

      2. I found this topic interesting, likely because I haven't heard the term "captain" in a long, long time, and I wondered if it was out of use, or if I just wasn't going to the right places anymore. Well..... I may never know about that for sure, but I did find the following on

        Front of House Staff:


        Maître d'Hôtel
        This is the person responsible for the overall management of service at a fairly elaborate establishment, often a hotel. Over time, the title -- commonly shortened to maître d' -- has taken on a life of its own. The ideal maître d' is sometimes perceived to be a charismatic and imperious man, whose personality comes to be associated with the restaurant itself. At the most elegant establishments, this style of maître d' might be the first person encountered upon entering, and might display lavish attentiveness to certain, visibly top-notch, patrons, while projecting cool disdain on others. Oscar Tschirky, the famous maître d'hôtel at the Waldorf-Astoria during the Gilded Age, has been credited with originating this stereotype.

        As second-in-command, the headwaiter oversees service in a particular area of the restaurant, such as a banquet room. If there is no maître d'hôtel, the headwaiter is responsible for the overall management of service. Often the titles maître d' and headwaiter are interchangeable.

        The captain is responsible for running one "service station" - that is, a section of the restaurant that typically includes 25 to 30 guests. This involves taking the customers' orders and overseeing one or two waiters and a busboy, who carry out the other tasks necessary to the progress of the meal.

        The waiter assists the captain by tending to the customers' needs throughout the meal - bringing the food when it is ready, providing utensils and plates. In small or casual restaurants, a captain may not be necessary, and waiters will take customers' orders.

        At the bottom of the ladder for the front-of-house staff is the busboy. He is responsible for the most basic needs of the guests - filling water glasses, bringing bread and butter, and conveying dirty dishes to his counterpart in the kitchen, the dishwasher.

        In more contemporary parlance, I would assume that the "Captain" they refer to is now your Server.Waiter, and the "Waiter" is now what I hear called a "runner" or "expeditor".