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How to compliment a chef on a fabulous meal?

According to the laws in my state all monies left on the table belong to the server to be kept or dispersed only at their disgression. Unless the waitstaff tips out the kitchen upon their own volition, the chef and crew are left out. I often wonder what kind of kudos a kitchen crew receives on a meal done well.

When traversing the culinary terrain in the Puget Sound, if I come across a meal of notable distinction I make sure to drop a hand written note in the mail to the owner and the kitchen to let them know how much I appreciate their establishment. I always drop the servers name too in my note if the service is worthy of it.

In the same lines of tipping out, what is an appropriate way to compliment a chef that is not monetary? The other evening my husband asked me if it would be proper to send a glass of wine to the master of our meal, I was unsure of how to respond. What about purchasing a meal or dessert for them? Forgive my ignorance if these are major faux paxs, I just would like to express my gratitude to the kitchen in an appropriate manner!

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  1. Sending a glass of wine to the chef, especially if you've brought, or ordered something special, is always a nice compliment. We always appreciate something like that in the kitchen. A handwritten note sent via mail the next day is appreciated as well (not an e-mail, even in this day and age, there's something too impersonal about it). Purchasing a meal for them is sort of a moot point, the chef (and the cooks) eat for free already at most places, so all you're doing is putting extra money in the owner's pocket, not really doing anything for the person(s) who cooked your meal.

    Keep in mind as regards tipping, that while perhaps not paid extraordinarily well, the chef in particular, and even many of the cooks, earn a living wage - even if they work a ridiculous number of hours to earn it. In the U.S., servers do not - they don't even earn minimum wage (there's a special "tipped minimum wage" exception that's roughly half of what is considered minimum wage for anyone else), they rely on tips. It's an odd system, but it's the way it is.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Casa SaltShaker

      Please tell in what states don't servers make minimum wage. Here in California they do. My daughter was a server while in college over seven years ago in a small rural, no/low tip northern CA town and made about triple the CA minimum wage at that time. Last night at dinner in another small N. CA town, our server, a college student pursuing a chemistry degree, was discussing her earnings with us. She had quit a job with a large firm to become a server. She said she couldn't believe how much more money she made waiting tables. Our bill for two saladbars with BBQ beef ribs, pork ribs and chicken including dessert along with a bottle of Valpolicella was $32.07, so this is not a high-end restaurant. Our server had just bought a car and was headed to UC Davis to finish her degree. In California servers make good money.

      1. re: BN1

        The federal minimum wage for servers is $2.88. I believe there are some states that have higher tipped minimum wages, but I don't know which ones. I am pretty sure they comprise a small minority. It's $2.88 in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, and Washington D.C.

        1. re: nc213

          No, they are not a small minority.

          http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm

          1. re: PotatoHouse

            Um, do you think that might have changed in the six years since I made that comment??

            So six years later it looks like 22 states still have a tipped min wage under $3 and 34 states still have a tipped min wage under $5 and only 6 states pay at or over the $7.25 federal minimum. All of the states I mentioned as paying below $3 six years ago still do.

        2. re: BN1

          When I was in college in Wisconsin in the 80s and 90s there was indeed a lower min wage for service employees including waiters and bellmen and doormen . . . same for St Louis in the 80s too.

          I know that's a while ago but the states that followed that provision maybe still do.

          1. re: BN1

            The fact that the server was able to do that is a reflection of good tips (even in a not high end restaurant, one can make excellent wages on volume of tips if not size of tips), and probably doing a bit of scrimping and saving rather than spending. So yes, servers can make very good money, but they don't make it off their salary - as nc213 states below, the "tipped minimum wage" is much lower than the "hourly minimum wage". Even in states that have higher ones, like New York, it's still only $3 and change...

            1. re: Casa SaltShaker

              In San Francisco, servers make minimum wage- $9.14/hr! Plus all those tips. A shame because it cuts in to how much restaurants have available to pay untipped employees.

              1. re: jbsirkin

                restraunt that I stage in the servers make 10.00 an hour as well as tips which they pool.

          2. re: Casa SaltShaker

            Yes, I ask the sommelier to choose a glass of wine he knows the chef will like. Sometimes I even buy one for the sommelier. I usually tell them I was thinking in the 10-20 dollar-a-glass range, and they seem pleased with that.

            Sometimes I sing their praises on these websites and send them the link.

            Once I impulsively bear-hugged a French chef. I will not be doing that again.

          3. As a follow-up to an extraordinary meal, I may send a hand-written note, citing dishes that were particularly amazing, and promising to return and bring many friends.

            It certainly seems easier to talk to chefs today than formerly; many more of them spend time glad-handing the patrons, especially in places with large kitchen brigades. There's a whole class of celeb-chef wannabes that focus as much on marketing and self-promotion as cheffery. It's not hard to tell by what's on your plate when the balance has tilted too far.

            Dining later is also useful; some of my favorite Boston chef/owners can't come out of the kitchen when it's busy -- they're doing too much actual cooking -- but will venture out where we can thank them personally toward the end of the evening.

            Becoming a regular is maybe the biggest thank-you.

            1. As a chef I have to say I have always been thrilled when a guest sent me back a glass of wine. As far as I know all my friends in the industry feel the same way. It is a considerate gesture and really makes us feel good.

              4 Replies
              1. re: lebelage

                Oregon pays servers min wage which is 7.75 an hour. Still, after taxes, a 60 hour paycheck was maybe $100.

                1. re: andreafaith1982

                  In Vermont, servers make $3.68/hr!

                  1. re: andreafaith1982

                    Wow, $100? I did some quick math and if you are single with no exemptions you should still get about $340 out of that paycheck. That includes all the state and federal taxes.

                    1. re: iheartgrittytacoma

                      Servers get taxed on all their earnings, based on the tips they are assumed to have made. The last place I waitressed calculated the total sales for each server, per shift, figured a percentage of that was tip, and then took tax out based on that amount.

                      So if you sold $500 in a shift, it was assumed you made 12% in tips, so $60 was added to your "income" and you were taxed on that.

                2. California is, to my knowledge, the ONLY state that gives servers minimum wage.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: hilltowner

                    Actually you are wrong. Many states pay servers min. wage. Those that do tax tipped employees heavily. Most servers make next to nothing from a check. I work in CA and I'm lucky if i get $50 each check.

                    1. re: srr

                      My Bro is a server in Ohio, and he rarely actually gets a paycheque because the wage is so low that it's all taken away with taxes. SO he just lives on tips. He has gotten "pay"cheques before for 10 bucks. Appalling! Here in BC minimum wage is the same where ever you work.
                      BC also has the highest Min wage in the country. :) I live in a nice place.

                    2. re: hilltowner

                      Then your knowledge is lacking.

                      http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm

                    3. I have to admit, I never even thought of sending a glass of wine to the chef. Is this an accepted practice in Massachusetts? Anyone ? I would be happy to show appreciation in this way.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: AnneM

                        yes, most chefs like being appreciated, and a nice glass of wine or bubbly is a lovely gesture.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          That's assuming all chefs drink wine or anything alcoholic. Or that they would want to drink it at their own place rather than some where else.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I believe those who say it's appreciated, but personally if I was really busy with my work, taking time out to savor a glass of wine would be low on my priority list. At the end of the day, sure, but the glass is sitting there now?

                            1. re: DGresh

                              Right. I still think a simple written note would mean more than just about anything else. Sending a glass or bottle of wine requires nothing but money. Kinda like a description I read about e-cards: When you care enough to send the very least :)

                      2. A note is a smart way to show your appreciation (done it many times). Another route is to call the next day (prior to service) and convey your appreciation. I took the latter path two months ago after an exceptional meal at a fancy Manhattan address and the initial phone response was stunned silence followed by sincere gratitude. I suspect they were bracing themselves for some nasty tongue lashing from an irate customer and were literally speechless when high praise ensued. I kept my comments short and to the point. All was probably forgotten after a few minutes but that's just the way it goes.

                        1. as a chef, the best compliment is to tell everybody that you see or talk to for 2 weeks

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: brshpr

                            i'll second that! people are very quick to post bad experiences or tell their friends about a terrible meal but seldom go to the trouble to spread the word about a good experience. Do the restaurant a favor and post a positive review here or on Yelp or Citysearch.

                            Any monetary gifts I've received I've always divided up between my cooks, wine is a nice gesture but sending word of thanks through the server or in a note has always been fulfilling for me.

                          2. On (very) special occasions I've sent the Chef one of the bottles I brought ( I always bring my own(s) ).

                            1. my restaurant has open kitchen so diners can personally thank the chefs and they do regularly. One regular patron gives Christmas gifts of money to my main staff which is much appreciated.

                              Florida tipped minimum is $3.65 an hour

                              1. buy the chef a drink and them ask him if he has time to enjoy it at your table.

                                Kitchen pirates are bunch of lushes and egomaniacs (the nature of the job, you have to be!) so being with their guests is also a pleasure.

                                1. In Maine servers make less than $3/hr. Sending a glass of wine to the chef seems silly as they can probably get a glass of wine for nothing. And I've never worked in a restaurant where drinking was permitted during service.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: finewineserver

                                    Okay, now I'm confused. Is it okay to send a glass of wine to the chef in appreciation? I had never heard of this, and had planned on doing so now. I eat out often, and would want to show my appreciation for a great meal. But, now due to finewineserver's comments, could this be misconstrued? I have never worked in the food service industry, and I really don't want to make a faux pas. Help?

                                    NinaS

                                    1. re: NinaS

                                      While drinking may not be permitted for the staff in general, I've never worked in a restaurant where the chef wasn't permitted to enjoy a glass sent by a customer. Now, it is a little silly to send a glass of something that you ordered off the restaurant's winelist, unless, of course, it's something truly special that they'd be unlikely to get to taste otherwise. It's a very nice gesture if you brought your own (and it's not plonk). It's never a faux pas to offer. At worst, if they don't want it (or are too busy to drink it then) they'll thank you and set it aside to drink later or pass it on to a line cook.

                                    2. re: finewineserver

                                      isn't it the thought/gesture that counts? of course, he can get the wine for free, that is plain silly. having worked at a fine dining kitchen as a cook, my chef never turned down an offer of wine, scotch, etc. Usually he would raise the glass in appreciation for the diners to see, take a sip and continue expo.

                                      Drinking, permitted or not, the Chef is the Chief and he does what he sees fit for his kitchen.

                                    3. I always find a discreet way to get the chef to come to the door of the kitchen, shake his hand and thank him personally. I've also have never had a $20.00 bill returned to me by a chef. There is no substitute for money (or a fabulous meal). Enjoy!
                                      CocoDan

                                      1. What most chefs want...money or booze! I'll never turn down those! And being invited to sit with a guest is always appreciated. Some houses that I have worked in the kitchen gets 10% of what the servers claim that night. We'd get it at the end of a week, most times it was enough to buy a pack of smokes or lottery tix, but there were a couple times I got a tank of gas.

                                        1. I was a line cook for a number of years and EVERY kitchen I worked in we got tipped out. In the summer (more tourists) I would get up to 300 bucks every two weeks! Tips RULE! And of course as a cook you aren't expected to get tips so it's not like any of us declared it on our taxes. Course we would ususally just party it away for the next 2 nights but still, its was nice to do that and not be "out of pocket". Maybe it's just where you are, but no kitchen in BC, as far as I am aware (need that disclaimer) doesn't get tipped out by servers. I think it absolutely should be done, I mean if the food sucked would servers get tipped as much??

                                          1. In Virginia (and some other states), it is illegal for any employee to drink alcohol while on the clock. This is true for any place that has an ABC license. So you can't send the chef a drink. But you can make a point of asking to meet him/her. Almost every restaurant will accomodate that request (as long as the kitchen isn't slammed), and you can give compliments in person.

                                            Also, chefs in fine-dining restaurants are generally salaried and are some of the only employees with benefits. Servers and bartenders are hourly (less than minimum wage) and almost never have health insurance provided.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: mojoeater

                                              IMO if the meal was exceptional I will send the Chef including the back of house a descent bottle of 'bubbly'. They sometimes put these bottles away for occasions when they can all enjoy them. Everyone in the kitchen contributes to an excellent meal. The server/s also get an extra % tip.

                                            2. They're running a business - go back with a lot of your friends.

                                              Write a review on-line. Contact your newspaper and suggest that they review the restaurant.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: 512window

                                                All great ideas! A chef we know a little was talking on FB and saying how when he has any extra time he wants to spend it with his family. At the end of a long night, that glass of wine which will have already breathed its last gasp is not as appealing as getting the hell out of there.