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tipping the sushi chef - how much?

j
jujuthomas Jul 12, 2007 05:56 AM

I had sushi again last night - and when I got home my husband and I had a discussion about how much do you tip the sushi chef. My bill was $25 for salmon, yellowtail and shrimp sushi with a california roll. I gave the sushi chef $5. Do standard tipping guidlines apply?
Thanks!

  1. s
    Sharuf Jul 18, 2007 01:16 AM

    About 25 years ago, my SO and I would regularly patronize our local sushi bar / restaurant. When we sat at the sushi bar, the sushi guy would not accept tips. Flat out rejected them. I got the impression that was a traditional Japanese thing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sharuf
      r
      ricepad Jul 18, 2007 07:27 AM

      He might have been the owner...my boss at the sushi bar would accept them (to be polite), but would pass them on to me (if we were working together) or to the other staff.

      1. re: ricepad
        s
        soupkitten Jul 18, 2007 09:42 AM

        yes a lot of owners won't take tips because it could appear to be bribery from the customer, or because to their employees it seems unfair for the owner to take the tip while also profiting from the sale of the food/bev. the owner may outright refuse the tip or discreetly pass it on to an employee or shared staff tip pool.

    2. mrsmegawatt Jul 17, 2007 10:20 AM

      This seems to me to be a "situational" thing. Our favorite place is owned by an nice older couple. He's the sushi chef and she's part of the wait staff. We tip the server and the sushi chef. Usually the standard to the server and whatever we feel like for the chef. If we're sitting at the bar only, it's always a nice tip. If we sit at a table and only order a few pieces...it's a bit less. While sitting at the bar, we've seen the chef wave his glass at his wife so she can get him some warm sake. It's a kick! He's from Japan and shares stories of the differences between California and Japan, not only foodwise, but daily life.

      1. b
        Bunson Jul 17, 2007 08:30 AM

        Hmm, sushi chef tipping is a different beast, not really sure if there's a "standard" but there's the server who you should tip, plus the sushi chef, you'll probably end up tipping more than a typical restaurant. Also, has anyone bought sake shots or sushi for the chef as well?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Bunson
          m
          markabauman Jul 17, 2007 10:06 AM

          I'm not sure what the etiquette is. I've heard of buying sake or a beer for itamae-san, but maybe it depends on whether he is the owner or an employee chef. I've been in small "mom & pop" places, where it was evident that they were the owner. Not sure I would buy them their own beer. But I was in a place recently where the chef clearly as dedicated as he was, just worked there. Maybe others know how this works-otherwise I just leave a cash tip.

          1. re: Bunson
            s
            soupkitten Jul 17, 2007 10:11 AM

            i've bought sake, beer, and shots for sushi chefs-- never sushi, they already have access to the prettiest stuff to make their own sushi if they want to-- like you don't order a dinner off the menu for a non-sushi chef-- s/he'll get her/his own plate from odds & ends back there in the kitchen, thanks. sometimes the sushi chef will decline drinks if not her/himmself a drinker, or if the establishment is very traditional, but a lot of the younger sushi chefs at hip sushi bars like to party, esp towards the end of their shift!

            1. re: Bunson
              r
              ricepad Jul 17, 2007 01:07 PM

              It is rarely bad form to buy your itamae a drink, but first, make sure he/she drinks. (Just ask the chef what kind of drink he/she likes...if you're trying to surprise the chef, the servers and/or bartender can tell you.) Buying food for the chef is different, and is kind of a 'coals to Newcastle' thing...

              1. re: ricepad
                ccbweb Jul 17, 2007 01:18 PM

                Depending on what you're ordering for yourself to drink, its also fine to offer the first pour from a beer or carafe or jar of sake to the itamae. You can simply hold up the bottle/carafe and ask if he/she would like some, then get the server to bring a glass or cup.

                As for tipping, we often get fabulous service at the sushi bar and put $15 or $20 in the tip jar depending on how much we ordered. We then tip about 15% on the whole check in addition. Unless the server did a particularly good job. Usually, its bring some tea and water and that's it and in many cases we have to flag people down to get refills.

                In non-sushi restaurants we normally tip more like 20% on the whole check.

            2. danna Jul 17, 2007 07:59 AM

              My normal sushi place has very limited bar seating, so we sit at a table. We normally tip the waitress 20% and stuff $5 in the chef's jar. As he has come to know us, he looks out for us with some extra avacodo or tobiko, and warns us if we order something that is not great that day. Bill usually around $35-40 for lunch.

              If I'm at the bar at another sushi place, I never really know what to do, especially if there is no obvious place to put a tip for the chef. And if there is a tip jar, then how to I split between server and chef?

              1. OCAnn Jul 12, 2007 08:41 AM

                With my husband, I took my parents out to sushi last weekend (www.chowhound.com/topics/419304 ). The four of us ate generously and had two large beers. The bill came out to $85 after tax. Impossible! I expected anywhere from $200-300. I had them recheck the bill to be told that it was correct. My tip? $100.

                EDIT: Normally when Mr OCAnn & I eat @ the counter, our bill runs anywhere from $30-60. Our tip on those bills start @ 20% upwards.

                6 Replies
                1. re: OCAnn
                  r
                  ricepad Jul 17, 2007 10:01 AM

                  Holy cow! I would be your PERSONAL itamae for that kinda tip! I guarantee he's going to remember you and slide you some special tidbits the next time you're there.

                  1. re: ricepad
                    OCAnn Jul 17, 2007 10:06 AM

                    I usually don't leave that kinda tip; my parents said it was too much (as did Mr OCAnn). =S I just left the "balance" of what I thought the dinner should have cost.

                    What do you think would have been appropriate in my case?

                    1. re: OCAnn
                      r
                      ricepad Jul 17, 2007 01:03 PM

                      Yeah, I understood that the tip was atypical for you from the rest of your posts...and to be honest, even tho I've been on the other side of the counter, I'm not a good judge of what an appropriate tip might be, other than the general guidelines of tipping overall...that is, 15-20% as a base. More for better service, less for lesser service. I tended not to be all that concerned about tips, because I worked the sushi bar with the owner, who would usually give me most (sometimes all) the tips HE received, too.

                  2. re: OCAnn
                    ajs228 Jul 17, 2007 01:09 PM

                    That raises a good question. If you're eating at a table and have a server, how do you differentiate what you tip to the server and what you tip to the sushi chef?

                    1. re: ajs228
                      r
                      ricepad Jul 17, 2007 01:15 PM

                      That depends. Usually, the server will tip out the itamae from whatever you leave, so you don't have to worry about it if you don't want to. If, OTOH, you think you're going to sit at the sushi bar next time, tip the itamae separately (let the server know you're doing it, too, so they don't tip out and double-tip the itamae). Make sure the itamae knows you're tipping, and that you enjoyed his/her work. Not only will they appreciate the compliment, they're more likely to remember you when you sit in front of them next time.

                      1. re: ricepad
                        OCAnn Jul 17, 2007 01:42 PM

                        Good to know; I told the itamae that the tip was for him, but I didn't tell the server. =( At least I know better for next time.

                  3. m
                    mvi Jul 12, 2007 08:30 AM

                    I love sushi and always generously tip the sushi chef at the palces I have been. I think their art work, creativity and the level of personal attention is usually magnificent. (Of course, this is just where I tend to go- and may not apply to everyone and where they go.) There is a takeout sushi place I love and I always stick a big tip in the sushi chef's tip jar, even if it is premade and from the case but especially if he makes it for me. As a result, he now knows my name, what I like and he often makes my things ahead. Another sushi chef I know always - without fail- creates extra things for me to try when I am there. No charge. The sushi chefs I know are distinguished, kind and polite, raising families and working hard. In my mind, I think they deserve a nice tip.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mvi
                      a
                      abowes Jul 17, 2007 08:14 AM

                      But, mvi, what is "a nice tip"? Is the OP's 20% nice or no?

                      1. re: abowes
                        m
                        mvi Jul 17, 2007 11:51 AM

                        Very nice indeed. Thanks for the prompt- I should have been more clear.

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