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Chef treating you to dinner - how much to tip?

A chef at a local restaurant is treating me to dinner. I've arranged large parties with his restaurant through work, but have not been able to make the parties I've arranged - therefore he has invited me to come in for dinner. I know I should tip on the total cost of the meal - the average 20% or higher?

The chef also owns the restaurant - if that is important.

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  1. Its not unreasonable to ask for the bill or a copy of it so you know how to tip, then tip accordingly. The chef isn't buying you dinner and then going to expect a huge tip for his waiter, probably doesn't care for that matter. If the service is good 20% is just fine, if it exceeds your expectation and you are feeling generous, more than 20 is fine too, but don't feel like you need to make up for a free meal with a huge gratuity. Any self respecting server would agree.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Carmelizedbunions

      I agree with you. I'm in the buisness,and most people don't think about the person who is serving the meal,they tip the host a 20or 50 to walk them to a table,a 20 to the piano player ,and ask you if you could go put the 20 in piano tip jar,and sit at a table for two hours and have the server give them the best of service,and they get maybe a 10 dollar tip. I'm not saying to over tip ,but think of the time that you took up the table,.I also think 20% of the estimated bill would make any self respectig server happy! after all you had a good meal,and good service 20% is a good deal.

      1. re: Carmelizedbunions

        I wonder about asking for a copy of the bill. It seems ungracious to me and if you know the restaurant or if they have a website, you can easily calculate the approximate cost without asking them to create a bill for a comped meal. I agree that the tip should not be considerably higher than what you would tip on good service - however if by some strange turn of events the service is poor you still need to tip 20%.

      2. That's an interesting question. I have a nice relationship with a restaurant in town, and am sometimes given food and/or drink items gratis. Sometimes these are part of a larger evening of food and drink, but sometimes if I stop in to say hi to folks and have a glass of wine, there may be no bill at all. I've always been of the mind that one should tip close to the amount of $ that has been comped your way (for example, I'd leave a $10 tip on a comped glass of $10-15 wine). But again, the representative amounts that I've been comped don't really come close to your whole fancy dinner. I'd think your plan to go 20% or a bit more sounds fair in this instance.

        (By the way, if anyone disagrees with my methods above, let me know. It seemed like the sensical way to tip in these instances, but I'm certainly open to suggestion if others feel there's a more appropriate way to do it.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: litchick

          I would hazard the guess that if you stopped tipping that way, the comps would become less frequent!

        2. I have run into this situation before and the best I could do was estimate the bill and tehn tip accordingly. 20%

          1. that the chef is the owner does not matter. he will not be sharing in the tips.

            whenever i am comped lunch or dinner i tip closer to 50%. figure you would have paid 100% + 20% anyway. karma. it's worth it.

            sorry, but 20% on a free meal looks very cheap.

            1. Ah! A very interesting question indeed, maybe one of the most interesting I have encountered on CH. If the comped item/meal is not tooooo expensive (and I didn't know in advance it was to be comped) then I leave what the meal would have cost, i.e. a $100 tab, a $100 tip. I figure I am still coming out ahead.

              I haven't ever known in advance (well, maybe once) which is your predicament. I would leave 50% of what I think the bill would have been. No, the owner doesn't benefit at all and he/she is incurring all the costs. I guess I look at it as a rare opportunity to give the wait staff a nice boost. Rarely is a restaurateur in the fortunate position to give bonuses, and while my pitiful tip is hardly the bonus most of them deserve, at least it's out of the ordinary.

              3 Replies
                  1. re: chaddict

                    I do the exact same thing with the same logic...I'm trying to do something nice for the owner - boosting the morale of his staff - as a thank-you for the free meal.

                  2. I think there are two things going on here:
                    1. tipping for service received
                    2. thanking the chef for his "gift"

                    Leaving a tip = 100% of the cost seem way high to me, although
                    the sum of 1 and 2 being hte the neightborhood of 100%, might be
                    a reasonable guideline.

                    Assuming reasonable serivce [and it's hard to imagine otherwise,
                    given the staff ought to know about the circumstances]
                    I'd also probably be somewhere in the 30-50% top range depending
                    on hard-to-enumerate-but-the-kind-you'ld-imagine factors. [i'd proably
                    round to some clean number].

                    But, i want to also do something for the chef ... send him a bottle of
                    wine, flowers, gram of noka chocolate, tickets to some event,
                    invitation to house my house in tuscany, copy of my book, one
                    of my watercolors, invitation to golf at my club etc ... as my
                    circumstances and talents would permit.

                    So to answer you question directly: yes, higher than 20%.
                    [and, yes, i think the chef owning is relevant, but it's probably not
                    worth going into the detailed accounting of why.]

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: psb

                      Seems to me that since the chef is offering this meal as a thank-you gift for sending business his way, you wouldn't have to go to any extraordinary lengths to pay him back (unless you're sensitive to the "IOU account balance" and you want to him to keep feeling like he owes you). Paying for the meal in the form of a gigantic tip almost strikes me like refusing to accept the gift. Kind of.

                      Seems like a +20% tip would be appropriate (overtipping is always good, right?), plus effusive thanks to the chef.

                      If you want to ease the pain for the chef/owner, maybe you could consider not ordering the most expensive meal possible.

                    2. I think 20% is fine. Honestly, if you tip as high as the cost of the meal, it's sort of like negating the thank-you guesture. He is thanking YOU, so you don't need to go to great lengths to thank him back...at a certain point, it's almost rude--like if you tip the cost of the meal, you are not graciously accepting his gift. Besides, your tip is going to the server, not the chef, and there's a good chance the chef won't even know how much you have left in tip. Further, it doesn't make any difference to the server if your meal is comped or not--it takes the server the same time and effort to serve it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Nicole

                        the server is well aware you are being comped. you don't "have to". it's just nice and good karma.

                      2. What is this dueling gifts? The chef is giving you a thank you gift for the business you have sent his way. Be gracious to the chef and not make him feel bad by "paying" for his gift.

                        Now to the staff. You should have a basic idea obout the cost of the meal since you have arranged dinners there before. Do some simple math on an app/entree/dessert, etc and have that as you guide. If the service was good add 10% to your normal tip and if its not up to snuff (usually because the staff thinks they are going to get stiffed anyway because the meal is comped) fulfill their expectations. Hopefully it's the former and the waitstaff will get a little bonus from their boss' generosity.

                        In any event you must seek out the chef and thank him personally.

                        1. While the touch is personal, it's also a business transaction (with or without the money).

                          Keep that in mind.

                          Service staff = A tip worthy of their service level.

                          Chef = Add your own personal touch with a nice handwritten thank you note, with your expressions of gratitude for the wonderful meal, looking forward to continuing the business relationship..... A nice, stylish arrangement to fit the setting of the restaurant for their hostess/maitre'd area with card to his business from your business.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: calla0413

                            I agree with calla0413. I would tip based on the estimated cost of the meal. Hopefully you had good service so this would be a little over 20%. The thank-you note is the most important thing.

                            1. re: calla0413

                              I agree. First, the guest knows the price range of the menu since he/she is being invited by the chef as a "thank you" for business. Hence, a price range should already be known, and a good estimate of the check for gratuity calculation should be easy. As for the chef/owner, a hand-written thank you note would be the most appropriate gesture of thanks.

                            2. This is part of a business deal and very generous on the part of the chef/owner who is letting you know how much he appreciates your business. Therefore, let him know how much you appreciate his gift.

                              As you know what a meal costs (or a approximation thereof), tip at least 50% of the cost. If you must, tell the chef that you want to let the staff know how much you appreciate this gift and ask him how much to leave (the wait staff are an extension of the chef as they represent him to the public--bad tips are taken personally by the chef as they reflect his food). What ever he says, leave a little more but try and know in advance what the probable cost is. If he tells you that he is taking care of the tip, still leave a $20 or so tucked under a plate. This will let the chef (who will not partake of the tip) know that you love the service your receive, are very thankful for his gift and look forward to doing more business with him. Trust me, if you leave a megre grat (anything less than 40% of the cost of the meal were you paying full price) he and his staff will be slighted and your business relationship tarnished.

                              I always tip generously on freebies. I'm still coming out ahead, I've shown my appreciation for the gesture and they continue to appreciate my business.

                              I'm amazed that every time tipping comes up on this board, there are so many who are looking for ways to slight the waitstaff. Dining out is about pleasure. Why be mean.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Le Den

                                Le Den you're right. Be generous.Sometimes the ones who never get thanked are the folks in the Kitchen. By a round of drinks for the kitchen to have after their shift if allowed. Those are the ones who are often asked to do the extra work and accomodate special requests when the server is usually the one to benefit.

                                1. re: wineandcheese

                                  Buying the kitchen a round! What an excellent idea! I often forget just how overlooked the kitchen staff is.

                                2. re: Le Den

                                  I disagree with the notion that tipping 20% is "slighting" the waitstaff or being "mean" in any way. A couple of us simply suggested that tipping close to the cost of the meal is not graciously accepting the gift of the meal.

                                  Agree that a thank you note for the chef is also important.

                                  1. re: Le Den

                                    Unless the chef is the owner, he usually won't be too interested in what the waiters are making. A tip shouldn't reflect the food at all, since the tip goes to the waiter and front of house staff. The chefs don't see a dime of the tip whether the food is comped or not.

                                    From my standpoint as a waiter, any time something is comped, whether a drink or the whole shebang, I'm happy with 20 percent of what the bill was supposed to be. Naturally, if you leave more, I'll be thrilled. I'm not sure that I'd personally leave 50 percent of the original check when the whole thing is comped, but boy I can tell you that if I was your waiter and you left a tip like that, I will do just about anything under my power to wait on you again the next time you're there.

                                  2. I'd say that what you do about the chef/owner is your personal decision, relative to your business/personal relationship. But...... your server is not the owner and should not receive any less than you would normally tip. EIther ask or estimate high as to the price of your meal.

                                    My son was a server at a celebrity owned restaurant, in Hollywood, where there were frequent 'comped' tables of either investors or friends of owners/investors. It was a real disappointment to him how frequently these high-rollers would all but stiff him. Somehow (?) they asssumed that the service was comped as well. Management never once made up for it either. Not a good situation!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      Very true. Owners do not make up the tips. And servers should be tipped on their service

                                    2. Since (especially because) the chef also owns the restaurant, I would ask his recommendation of the amount to leave the server, I'm sure he will give you a good idea: and there won't be lots of discussion among the waitstaff later on to boot! If you think waiters don't analyze their tips in a group session at the end of the night, you've never worked in a restaurant! and since this is a business deal, that's important.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: coll

                                        Seems a little gauche to me to ask the person giving you a gift how much it costs. Do some research, stop by the resto and look at the menu the day before, go on-line, do something other than ask the giver what the cost is.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          absolutely do not ask the chef. that would be gauche, and make him profoundly uncomfortable.

                                      2. Yes, but that puts the chef in an awkward position. I think the advice to guess how much was spent and give 20% plus (I usually leave 20 plus half the cost of what was free) is good. Also, you will probably have the waiter's full attention (why the previous poster thought it would be substandard, I don't know) and therefore tipping extra will make up for what I imagine will be extra service.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Missmoo

                                          The bad service comment is min. Although it is unbelievable to think that when the owner/chef is sponsoring the meal that the waitstaff will be anything but perfect it has happened to me. It was so bad once, that mrs jfood and i have not, and will not, go back to the resto. if the chef asks me why the sudden change of business i would tell him that his staff was so substandard that i am afraid what they have done, and might do, to my customers in the future.

                                        2. My experience has been that when a server knows that your meal is being comped the service suffers. I have had this happen to me on more than one occasion and it seems like the service should be the same for all no matter whos paying. I always tip according to service regardless of who pays for the meal. The server is the only one getting the tip so giving him/her extra isn't really a compliment to the chef in any way.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: bolivianita

                                            See my post above. If the server gives poor service it may be because they are anticipating a poor tip, based on experience. .That certainly doesn't make it right, but it can explain it.

                                            1. re: bolivianita

                                              I disagree with this. I think it would be a known fact that the chef is going to have special guests sit at your table and that you are to take good care of them. If anything, I would think the server would go out of his way to ensure that nothing bad makes it back to the chef/owner or whoever. Also, if I were the server and received a lousy tip or no tip from the guests, I'd let whoever was doing the comp know. If they have any regard for their staff, they will add the tip to the comp.

                                            2. Excellent thread here. I have a twist: How about when a chef who is NOT the owner comps you a meal? A friend is a chef at a local place, he is allowed to comp a few meals a night and those comps come my way fairly frequently. Even though these meals are often eaten at the bar, with the chef personally delivering the food, my practice is to be generous in tipping. I'll usually tip approximately 30-40 percent of what the entire meal would have cost. This leaves everyone happy: I'm still getting a great deal and the servers are treated better than usual. (I like to think it at least partially makes up for all the cheap bastards they have to deal with on any given night.) The only real loser is the owner, but I recommend the place to friends all the time so I'm ok with that.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                                Are you sure he is actually allowed to comp the meals? I know some chefs that do this but I don't think the owners know the extent of business/money they're losing until they catch him and have to fire him. Nothing against you, but there are some chefs out there that think they own the place when they don't. Especially if he is bringing the food out himself, reminds me of a few guys I know.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  Yup, chefs do this all time...a major reason to base bonus on meeting food costs. Better yet, base the sous chef's bonus on food cost. Arguments might break out from time to time, but the comps tend to go down.

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    Yes quite sure. I know one of the owners too and he is usually aware. In fact he'll sometimes comp me a scotch after a comp'd dinner!

                                                  2. re: Grubbjunkie

                                                    Ah...this happened to me once and it came out of left field as I barely knew the chef. He, however, knew that my boss (who he did know) wanted me to have a great night out and had already prepaid an expensive bottle of wine. We tipped generously and the next week I made the long drive down to Big Sur and left a nice bottle of wine and a note of thanks for the chef.

                                                  3. Assuming the server does a pretty good job I would tip quite a few notches beyond my normal 25%+.

                                                    If the server isn't quite as good probably my norm or 20% range..

                                                    1. The dinner was fabulous - the waiter very young but very knowledgeable - I ended up tipping about 40%.

                                                      I went with 2 friends (who were not being compted), but the chef/owner also treated my friend to a complimentary glass of champagne as it was her birthday celebration.

                                                      1. Many people have mentioned 50+% which is not a bad idea, but not alway necessary. The Chef does not get the tip in most restaurants, and in manyn restaurants the servers do not talk about the tips with the chefs. They do discuss it though, however, if it was a horrible tip. Although I have read that the tip is to show the server their good service was appreciated and should not reflect the food, it is not the case with most consumers. If someone gets a meal that is not to their liking, they know it was the chef (unless its cold for the delay of the server getting to it) yet they do take it out on the server. So when a tip is horrible, then the server may discuss it with others and the chef may feel offended. Like someone said, it can also be a slap in the face to pretty much pay the whole bill via a tip because the Chef does not get the tip, it goes to the server who mostlikely had nothing to do with the comped meal. A decent tip based on about 10% MORE than normal (15-20%), and a personal thanks to the chef would make EVERYONE happy! Also, tell the chef that you will spread the word on how good the food is. My boyfriend is a Chef, and when he hears that a restaurant he works for has a good word of mouth, or he gets called out and thanked, he trully feels even better about his creations!

                                                        1. Tip what you would if you were paying. They should be tipped based on quality of service and amount of the meal.