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Tipping the Chef

Someone had mentioned to me that they've actually dined at restaurants where someone from their dining party asked for a visit from the chef and actually handed them a tip. I've never heard of that happening before. Did I miss something in the tipping world?


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  1. ime not generally appropriate. sometimes the chef is also the owner, and in that case it's actually a faux pas on the part of the would-be tipper. if a customer wants to show appreciation for a chef, the best thing is repeated & loyal patronage to the restaurant (ensuring business, if the chef is the owner, or continued employment, if s/he is not).

    sometimes it can be appropriate for a customer to express appreciation for the chef's abilities by "buying her/him a drink" at the end of the meal-- this is arranged through the restaurant management, and the waitstaff & barstaff: the chef's preferred libation is charged to the customer's bill, and the chef drinks the beer, or the cocktail, or the $70 scotch (careful, some chefs have expensive preferences!) or whatever at the end of her/his shift, with the customer's complements.

    if a chef is performing some sort of special service, or acting as a personal chef, outside of a restaurant, then a tip may be appropriate. if the chef makes a special meal/menu or caters an event *within* the restaurant, a thank-you card/gift to the chef are more appropriate, with generous tips to non-chef staff members. sushi chefs are an obvious exception to the general rules on tipping the chef.

    6 Replies
    1. re: soupkitten

      What great information. Thanks so much. :)

      1. re: soupkitten

        The only type of chef I can think of where it's appropriate to tip are sushi chefs.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          In North America, yes. In Japan, no.

          1. re: tjr

            Of course. Tipping sushi chefs in Japan is a huge faux-pas.

        2. re: soupkitten

          Finally, SK, something I disagree with you about! Don't worry, it only makes me appreciate you more.

          As a chef/owner I'll admit I'm in this business for love -- but if I don't make enough money to pay the rent, keep my employees happy and bribe the health inspector (KIDDING about that last one), I'm not going to stay in business long. While I agree about the "repeated and loyal patronage" I must disagree that a tip to the chef/owner is in any way a faux pas.

          Now, that being said, if a customer comes into the kitchen and tips me, say a hundred bucks, I'm not going to hold back a cent of it (even if the electric bill is overdue). It goes to my kitchen crew, with maybe a little extra for the guy or gal in the dishpit (they work hard for their money, people, and NO ONE ever thinks to tip them). If it's the odd ten or twenty, then it's much appreciated and goes into the general fund (we call it "bail money" though we've been fortunate never to have to use it for that) and if a staff member has medical bills or needs to fly home for a family crisis or we all just want to use it to hang out and have a party, then that's where it goes.

          The only case in which I'll accept a tip for myself is when I'm doing off-site work and I'm on my own or with one server. If the server has recieved a tip equivalent to mine (I always ask) then I keep quiet about my windfall and accept it. If they haven't gotten anything, then the full tip is theirs. If there's a discrepancy, I make it at the very least even. If I'm on my own, I take it all and determine that the next time I work for that client I will devote all of my attention to blowing their minds with the food, cleaning their kitchen, charming their kids and doing whatever I can to make sure that they call me again.

          1. re: chefbeth

            love the "bail money" idea...it's honest and shows real heart.

        3. As the cook (not the chef) I was actually once tipped with a 5 dollar bill. Very strange and irregular but appreciated nonetheless.

          1. Sure, why not.

            Nothing says appreciation quite like a Benjamin Franklin, or two.

            1. If you've had an exceptional meal, I'm all for tipping the cooks, as it's their labor (and sometimes sweat) that yer tasting. Not that a cocktail wouldn't be enjoyed, but dollars more so. As a reformed line cook, the couple of extra $$ sent back to the kitchen to thank the cooks for a extraodinary meal meant more to me than it did to the front of the house staff that was making twice my income for half the exertion and time.

              1. I have from time to time left a bottle of high end Oregon Pinot Noir for our club chef, we are talking $80-90 range. This is a bottle that is sold out and unavailable, even if he wanted to pay that much. I know it is appreciated.

                Around Christmas I usually put a $50 in an envelope and sent it back to the cook at a local Tavern that I frequent for lunch. Last year she came out and was almost crying.

                1 Reply
                1. re: duck833

                  jeez duck, nice but I'm not sure I'd want to see her reaction. (modesty obliges)

                  but then there'll be no spitting in your food (to hijack the name of a concurrent vile thread).

                  correct me if I'm wrong, but in the US servers don't really know what they're going to make that shift and have to deal with things like "I don't like the shape of this fork" or "my napkin's the wrong size" or "I know I said well done, but everybody knows I mean quite rare".

                  I'm sure there are inequities all around, but I don't think I'd tip unless I was a regular and knew the set-up and it was consistently great.

                  Owner/chef - no, if it could be kitchen staff specific - sure.

                  although, if done discreetly (your companions don't see and it wasn't for show...) no harm done. lagniappe/manna/expressed appreciation is always fun.

                2. I've always wished that I could choose to assign the tip to kitchen staff, either whole or in part. I have had many meals where the quality of the food was top notch, but my server did nothing to enhance the dining experience. This far outnumbers the times I have had excellent service and poor food.

                  One time, I went a little extreme. I had asked for small modification to my order for allergy reasons. My dish arrived un-modified. The server, who had been performing sub-par to this point (even to my low expectations) blamed the error on the kitchen. I walked back to the kitchen line and asked to see the order slip for my table. Sure enough, the server had not entered the modification. The substitue dish was delicious.

                  I paid by credit card, left a penny on top of the billfold, walked back to the kitchen staff and handed the line cook $25.

                  1. As a chef i can tell you that we work so much longer and harder than your servers! And yet at the end of the night, we watch them count their cash and if we're friendly they might buy us a beer at the end of the night. Their tip is a dirict reflection of our hard work. Lets get real most people wont tip if the food sucked no matter how good the service. I was tipped once. It felt very vindicated. I reccommend it. But no one can do it alone, including the chef there's a sous chef, line cooks and dishwashers. Usually they work harder than and are paid less than the chef. If you are or aren't going to tip, please differentiate between the server's responsibility and the kitchens. if they give you good service, know that the food's not their fault and tip accordingly, but if you enjoyed your meal..don't hesitate to tip the chef!

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: spadesaspade

                      If being a in the BOH is so much worse than being in the FOH than why don't you just quit cooking and become a waiter? I know that some people like dishwashers and prep cooks aren't allowed to work FOH because their English skills are not what Management expects but you seem fairly articulate. Is there any thing stopping you from making this transition?

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        i guess you don't get why some people cook for a living
                        (p.s.: it ain't just a lack of english skills/failure to articulate)

                        1. re: sixelagogo

                          Oh, I know why people cook for a living but the poster complained about pay. S/he has options and if pay is the foremost on their priorities list than working in a kitchen is not for them.

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            With all due respect, KT, this is an argument that really gets my knickers in a twist.

                            If you work in a kitchen, chances are that money is not your main priority in life, but that doesn't mean that if you don't pay the rent you won't be living in a cardboard box. If you work in a kitchen and money IS your priority, then you've gotten some seriously bad advice somewhere along the way, and yeah you should just take that waiter job.

                            But here's the thing (and I abjectly apologize if this kitchen POV offends any servers out there, because that is not my intention -- I love you guys): Ten years in a restaurant kitchen working your butt off, learning anything you can, well, there's a good chance that you can move up. Maybe find a following, make your reputation, maybe get that exec chef job when he leaves his third wife and picks up a coke habit, MAYBE even have your own place one day. Or become Anthony Bourdain, publish a book, get a tv show, whatever. We're dreamers, many of us, but we're hardworking dreamers who are willing to take risks both in a culinary and financial sense. That can be a good combination -- or it can be disastrous. Every one of us working a line is taking our chances.

                            Now, let's say you spent those same ten years working as a server. You make good money, drive a nicer car, and if your customers are good to you, you may even be able to afford health insurance. Chances are, your dreams are different from the kitchen people -- you want to be a writer, an actor or have time to raise your kids. All honorable aspirations, but they have nothing to do with your job. So, ten years later -- you're still waiting tables AND still consistently out-earning the line cooks. But that first line cook, ten years ago -- I'm hoping s/he's gone on to found a family of fantastic tapas bars or has own show on the Food Network.

                            Okay, so I'm a dreamer. That's why I do what I do -- that's why the people working for me are in it too. But if you cut us, do we not bleed? If we see others in the same workplace with shorter hours, better pay and working conditions that are less harsh, are we not subject to bouts of jealousy? But without us dreamers, who's going to make that sublime food that the server brings you?

                            Again, my apologies to servers everywhere if I've offended. In all seriousness, some of my favorite people are servers -- really! Please understand that I am fully aware without your labor (and I know it's harder than it looks - I've done it too) my little fantasies on a plate won't make it to where they need to be to get appreciated. Deep down, we're both dreamers, just with different dreams -- and I respect that about you folks.

                            Gaahhh. I've messed this up. Please tell me I'm not about to get soup spilled on me the next time I eat out!

                            1. re: chefbeth

                              I respect chefs and I know I could never be one. I'm a fairly decent home cook and when I was younger and cooking for my friends some of them would ask me why I didn't pursue cooking professionally. My answer was that I didn't fancy working 12 hours a day in less than optimal conditions.

                              I have a friend who is a teacher and I envy the fact that he gets summers off and after 20 years he will be eligible for a pension but I know I could never do what he does because I don't have the temperament or patience to do what he does but and that maybe the difference between those who work FOH vs BOH. Different skill sets.

                              Because of questionable legal statuses some who work in the BOH don't have many options. But for others who are either passionate or have dreams of stardom, they chose to work there and for these people I have less sympathy. There are many who work hard and make little money while practicing their passions, actors, writers, musicians, etc.

                              There are worse things than living your passion.

                              1. re: chefbeth


                                the cooks back there aren't all illegal immigrants...if it's a small restaurant, most of them don't have health insurance, work for hourly pay, don't get paid vacations and/or sick days, and look like they've been to war at the end of each shift. Chef's might not put the time in on their feet, but they're working full time X 2, maybe 60-80 hours a week making sure everything runs smoothly. After i figured out my hourly wage working 75 hours a week from my salary as exective chef, i figured I was making about 11 bucks an hour....for me it wasn't worth it and i quit the restaurant biz...as i tell my kids: you gotta be 2 of three things to work in a rest. kitchen: Young, Crazy, or Alcoholic...I lost the youth and was never a big drinker, so i'm out..

                                Contrast that, however, with servers who-ok, i'm gonna put it out there- may have a "skill", but for the most part, they were hired by the FOH manager to look good. In a word: They're hot. Many of them have other career pursuits, some not, but taking in three times my hourly pay when you figure in the differences does goad me, as it should with anyone who has a sense of pay equity. Just something to chew on.

                                God bless the hands that make yer food....more than you know

                                1. re: sixelagogo

                                  My point all along was that if it isn't worth it to you and you have the option to do something else than you should exercise your option. You did just that and all the others that feel the same way you do should quit as well.

                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                    Just because this industry (and others) suffer from twisted economics doesn't mean the status quo is the way to go and is sacrosanct. Of course, if you think it's fine (which it seems like you do feel that way) then that's a different matter.

                                  1. re: NovoCuisine

                                    And I thank you, Novo. People in the business may have differnt points of view, but you can't blame customers if they only see what we want them to see. It's part of the magic, I guess.

                          2. re: spadesaspade

                            I assume your wages are quite a bit more than the servers'.

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              Hourly wages, or is that including tips for the servers? Because I guarantee that though the server technically makes less *per hour*, s/he takes home more money at the end of the year that any cook and most chefs.

                          3. Not to be pedantic, but this is one of the roles of the maitre'de, or AKA host/hostess. Find out what happens with the tips! If it's split between staff and you liked what happened, laeve it there. If you only like the food, send a compliments to the chef and offer a drink. But best of all, tell the folks....those serving, cooking and waiting on you and others.

                            Frankly, I know there are a lot of folks in the industry that don't make much and could use the money, but I find a lot of the " extra tipping" gets to be ostentatious, and often goes to the wrong folks. IMHO

                            1. No tipping the Chef is not cool. Nor is it practical. Can you imagine each diner calling out the chef to tip him? Nothing would get done in the kitchen. The only exceptions are if you are a pimp, organized crime figure, rap music promoter or a pompous ass trying to get lucky with some women you tricked into having dinner with you. If you do this make sure and use the correct form. Shake the chef's hand and let the huge tip cupped in your palm slide into the chefs hand-smoothly. A classy comment like " here ya go, buy yourself something nice" is always appropriate.