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Jan 29, 2009 03:47 PM

Winterlicious at Celestin

So, I just got home from a "pre-"Winterlicious dinner at Celestin. The meal was good, however not outstanding. Service was fine. On the Winterlicious menu, it informed us that there would be an 18% gratuity added to the bill. I was completely shocked by this. Can someone explain this addition of gratuity on our bill? Is it something Celestin does or is it Winterlicious specific? And is this the new norm for all Winterlicious participants?

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  1. More details? What did you eat?

    1 Reply
    1. re: ascendance

      I started with the Ricotta Ravioli with Winter Black Truffle Sauce.. The pasta was very light as was the filling, a nice start, however I didn't love that it was served lukewarm, rather than hot. My partner had the B.C. crab soup which was very good. Excellent crab flavour, with a very nice spicy hint in the background. My main course was the Hokkaido scallop and lobster in the shell.. I guess I should forgive the small portion because of Winterlicious. I received 3 small-medium scallops and 1 piece of lobster. Flavor was good for the most part, however I wasn't expecting the cauliflower taste. My partner had the Tender Banyuls braised buffalo rib which were VERY good. Incredibly tender, very nice flavor, good portion size. For dessert, I had the pecan chocolate moelleux (cake-like) which was very good, although it would've been nice if it was served warm. My partner finished with the flambeed apple and raisin with calvados gratin.. Again, very nice, good size, nice flavor.

      All in all, a good meal, although a little disappointing. I'd love if something could clear up my questions about the gratuity because I am very curious!

    2. How many people were in your party? Regardless, sounds a bit steep!

      1. Celestin does this every year. They tack on the 18% service charge regardless of the number in your party. It rubs me the wrong way - but I guess this is how they 'recoup' the loss of profit on the meal and actually bump up the Winterlicious menu price above what is mentioned on the site. Very entrepreneurial of them to figure out a way to elevate the prices while still participating in the licious festivals. I have been to 3 of their events. 1 time was fantastic (the first time), 2nd time was an embarrassment when I brought a group of friends that rarely 'fine dine', and the third time with my SO it was just "Okay". Best to go during their non-licious events. I have been very happy with my meals during their regular hours. The food is completely different. However, I have not gone since they paired down their menu and dropped the average price of a main by $10.

        Sorry to hear it was disappointing.

        19 Replies
        1. re: BokChoi

          Thank you for clearing that up! It is disheartening to hear that while they are winning points for participating in Winterlicious, they are doing their best to grab any extra pennies they can! Regardless, the regular menu does look quite appetizing, so however disappointed I am by my Winterlicious experience, I may try the regular menu at some point in time. Granted, with your dwindling experiences, I may reconsider once again!
          Thanks again for the info, it`s really appreciated!

          1. re: HelloBeautiful

            The regular meals have all been great, sorry if that did not come across. It has just been the licious events that have been a bit iffy for me. Do report back if you try it. It's much more accessible at their new prices - though I worry if the food suffers as a result. The service is fantastic at Celestin though to come to their defense of 18% gratuity tack-on - even during the licious events (from my experience).

          2. re: BokChoi

            I'm surprized to hear they added 18% gratuity . however to their defence they do not recoup the loss of profit..the tip goes only to the staff not the owners. I think it is because during winterlicious it is not the majority of regular dining clientel and more the "deal seakers and therefore they do not now how to tip and the servers get shafted. Did you all know that in most fine dining restaurant the tipout the server has to give is between 4.5- 7%( it goes to bartenders, food runners, bussers, kitchen staff) so that means if a cusomer leaves less than 15% they make vertially no money and in some cases lose money!

            1. re: cynthias

              While that is true, in most fine dining establishments, you are more likely to come across people who actually know how to tip. Although there are still the occasional guest who will stiff you, server`s tips generally work out to 15% at the end of the year.

              And, although it is expected in our society today, tipping is not a requirement. That`s part of the reason why I think it`s ridiculous that Celestin automatically assumes they deserve an 18% tip.

              1. re: HelloBeautiful

                I agree with the 18% tip.. 15% is standard. .I wonder if they are just at that number for winterlicious or they add 18% to parties of 6 or more as a standard. I was under the impression they did this for it is not there regular clientel but it should have been 15%.

                1. re: HelloBeautiful

                  Sorry but I COMPLETELY disagree with your comment "in most fine dining establishments, you are more likely to come across people who actually know how to tip"

                  I have seen and experienced poor tipping practices in fine dining establishments-actually you would be quite surprised.

                  In addition, Winterlicious (and Summerlicious) tends to bring out people who don't normally dine out at higher end establishments because they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it. I have seen and heard of pretty lame tips during this time-like 10%. Give me a break.

                  And in my opinion, given current living standards and inflation, unless the service is poor, 15% is too low.


                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                    Also, during 'licious, bills are way lower, but the demands of customers are the same. It takes as much work to serve a $30 prix fix plus a couple of glasses of water as it does to serve three separate courses and a few glasses of wine, but the bill can be half as much.
                    15% of $65 is way less than 15% of $100

                    1. re: Colonel78

                      I agree -- it's not the servers' faults that the management signed up for Winterlicious. I usually tip more during Winterlicious to compensate the wait staff. That being said, the restaurant should make advance disclosure of the mandatory tip.

                      1. re: torontofoodiegirl

                        I have also found the service to be lessened during winterlicious, so the fault sometimes is a bit of everything. I am a good tipper, but I only tip on service that is appropriate. I have been to a few establishments for an early dinner, when they are not busy and it is unbelievable waiting 20-25 minutes to get a beverage that was ordered, then when it comes all the ice is melted since it sat waiting for it to be served. I watch so that I am not blaming bad service on them prepping, or just hanging around.

                  2. re: HelloBeautiful

                    And you are right, tipping is not a requirement but perhaps you are not aware that legally servers can be paid under minimum wage because of tipping practices in Canada.

                    I would hazard a guess that a lot of people would last no longer than 2 days serving in a restaurant while dealing with a variety of (sometimes) incredibly rude people with no sense of manners! Its a LOT harder than most people understand!


                  3. re: cynthias

                    That is interesting. I have heard that the licious events does tend to entice the penny-pinchers to come out. Still, I think the standard 15% is reasonable and is not offensive to diners, whereas the 18% might be a bit of a turnoff (just given that one does not experience the same level of service during a licious evening as during a regular evening, yet one is expected to tip more). I believe they do calculate the tip after tax as well, which does dial it up yet another notch.

                    Nevertheless, I have had great service there on all occasions and do not mind so much with this mandatory tip. Just on principal does it bother me.


                    1. re: BokChoi

                      Just cross it off the bill and tip what you want there is no law that you must pay the autograt...

                      1. re: OnDaGo

                        True. Never wanted to risk that. Besides, I do still want to return to Celestin one day. And their service was not atrocious (actually, one of the best in the city), so I didn't want to offend them.

                        1. re: BokChoi

                          Last winterlicious I was pretty much disappointed in the food at Celestin. I've been many times previous and it was not to their usual standard. Service has always been good. I particularly enjoy sitting in Michael's area. Great attention to detail. For me, it seems to have lost the charm it once had.

                          1. re: millygirl

                            I too love Michael. He was fantastic each time we went there. I agree with smr714 - I don't particularly like being told what I have to tip. As well, the quality of service during a winterlicious event is not typical of a fine-dining establishment (generally - unless you get Michael). Perhaps they could alleviate some tension by posting this on their menu and participation page on the licious event - stating that an 18% gratuity will be added to the bill. That way people will come in with those expectations and not be caught off-guard. As well, it will give people the 'full picture' price before making a reservation. I think it will make everyone happy that way (of course, they would probably decrease the # of reservations taken, but full disclosure is always a good place to start with a good establishment).

                            1. re: BokChoi

                              If you go on their website, and click on the menu, the 18% (pre tax) gratuity is CLEARLY stated on the bottom. But yes, I suppose putting something on the Winterlicious website would be helpful.

                              So, I think they are giving full disclosure here-its good to look this up before putting speculative comments on Chowhound about their tipping policies.

                              1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                Just to clarify - I always knew of the autograt. I am just saying that it was obviously missed by some and a shock when it came time to pay. Since everyone browses the winterlicious menus when booking, I think that's the best way to tell everyone before they make reservations. Many restaurants display options that you can upgrade courses for an additional premium, so in the same vein, they can make note of this policy. That's all I am saying.

                                Either way, obviously their clients are getting a bit upset, or else they wouldn't be posting. I'm just suggesting a way to help make everyone happy. I'm not lecturing people on how they should be tipping, or how they should feel about finding the autograt. This is just constructive criticism that I think Celestin would be happy to receive in order to improve customer relations. Everyone only has something to gain here.

                        2. re: OnDaGo

                          Indeed, many "fine" restaurants simply pool the tips they get by charge card, and the bookkeeper sorts it all out by payday. This is called self-regulation, and servers are expected to police each other, in order to maximize tips -- to bring the slackers up to scratch -- or else they all suffer.

                    2. re: BokChoi

                      One of the past year's participants did it as well a few years ago, and when people complained they were told they were lucky to get the food at elevated price. I checked to see if the old post/review was still on here on Lola's Steakhouse but it has been removed from the site.

                    3. We had more or less what you did, HelloBeautiful, and although it was pretty good, the bill over $90 seemed too high.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: carissima

                        I definitely agree that if they gave fair warning about the 18% autograt, that would make it a little less offensive.

                        After working the past 2 nights at the fine dining establishment I work at, I have seen the many of the penny pinchers 'licious brings out. It is unfortunate, because the server's are expected to deliver the same service, despite the reward being much less. It's also much more work, as the restaurant I work at was completely packed all night long. Regardless though, I do still think the autograt, of any amount, is unfair. Even though I am obviously someone who takes into consideration the servers (and everyone they have to tip out) I still don't think it's right to decide for the customer how much they are tipping.

                        I'm going to Bymark for lunch, and Matignon for dinner, so we'll see what their policy is!

                        1. re: HelloBeautiful

                          Unless they've changed this year, Bymark has never added autograt.

                          1. re: HelloBeautiful

                            I am going to Big Daddy's Crabshack on Wednesday for lunch and they do not autograt.. asked when I made my reservations.

                        2. i'm not completely against training infrequent fine diners in the art of tipping and i understand that at times the servers get the shaft during events like this... but most of the time it can be warranted. even still, i was almost actually happy for the 18% auto grat because the service was very good at celestin and i didn't get an inkling of repulsion that i had chosen to dine during winterlicious as i have received at other places.

                          but.. onto the food!

                          it was my first experience at celestin and i have to say that the food is what failed to impress me enough to consider going back a second time. the cured salmon and foie gras parfait were perfectly fine (though i dare say the parfait was only grazed with some foie as it definitely tasted predominantly of chicken livers and cream)... desserts were quite basic as per the usual 'licious offerings (though i think i make a much nicer caramel ice cream... there's was too bitter and lacking any good creaminess). but the mains are what just missed the mark entirely and make me question the competency of their kitchen.

                          the seafood gratin of hokkaido scallops and lobster was perfectly awful. the thick floury bechamel was poured on far too liberally and we scraped off for the most part. it unfortunately it didn't do the job of masking the previously frozen cooked to a rubbery consistency scallops nor the mushy lobster claw meat that i think the kitchen was hoping for. the buffalo short ribs were slighty better with only a few pieces completely dried out and fingerlings inexplicably stripped of their skin and deep fried. at least the sauce was good!

                          i'm just looking for competence at winterlicious. show me that you can cook a piece of meat/seafood/veg properly and i'll be a happy girl. i know creativity tends to get thrown out the door... but competence is a minimal requirement. i likely won't be tempted to ever head back considering the price bracket on regular meals there.