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Jan 24, 2007 12:51 PM

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: 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.

        1. 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

                    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.

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

                  4 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.

                      1. re: srr

                        Most states do not pay servers minimum wage.

                      2. 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 :)