While surfing the web, I came across an article featuring 10 things a restaurant doesn’t want to tell you.
This little tidbit particularly irked me.
At high-end restaurants such as New York City’s Per Se and Napa Valley’s French Laundry, both owned by chef Thomas Keller, the practice (of tip pooling) is called service compris.
“The 20% service charge is clearly stated on the menu, and it’s equally divided among the staff,” says a spokesperson for both restaurants. Though the tip pool is designed to foster a team environment among staff, for customers it means something else entirely: that your gratuity isn’t specifically rewarding the waiter or sommelier who provided you with exemplary service.”
What bothered me most was the idea that unless your server/sommelier isn’t getting the full “reward” you give them, then you are being somehow cheated.
Then I thought about it, and realized that what really bothered me was the fact that there is clearly no understanding as to what it takes to give a table exemplary service.
Folks, your server and sommelier are able to give you exemplary service because of their support staff. Food runners, bussers, bartenders, bar backs, back waiters, dish washers, and lets not forget cooks. For service, particularly at the level of Per Se, it takes a large team. A team that shows up hours before the restaurant opens to polish silverware and glassware, set the dining room. A team that busts their butts to make everything relating to your experience as smooth as possible.
To think that the face time with your server is the only component to great service, is a huge disservice to those making the servers look good.
I have worked in restaurants that do and don’t tip out the kitchen. I don’t know that I would ever take a job again in a restaurant that didn’t tip out the kitchen. This is not out of my desire for a few extra bucks. At management level, I’ll never see another tip. It’s the idea that the people toiling in the kitchen, dishwashers, prep cooks, line cooks, are contributing to the experience, and should be justly rewarded.
It’s never much. 10 or 20 dollars a week each, usually. But it’s the gesture, the acknowledgement that everyone contributes.
It’s also in part to help rectify the fact that the front of the house always takes home far more money than the kitchen. In fine dining, even the busboy takes home more than the cooks. I often work with servers who take home in one night what I make in a week. An entry level position requiring minimal training in the front of the house can be worth more money than the lead line cook, someone with years of experience, and often a degree complete with student loans.
Veil’s chef Johnny came from Alinea, a restaurant where the prerequisite to a position in the kitchen is a position as a food runner, which is a low level front of the house job. He laughs about the fact that he has never made more money in his life. Even now, and he’s our chef.
So would I work in a kitchen that doesn’t recognize the inequality and at least make some kind of gesture towards the fact? Not if I can help it.
Should you be miffed that your entire tip doesn’t end up in your servers pocket? Absolutely not. And heck, if you really liked your dinner, tip the kitchen directly. 10 dollars will buy the guys a beer, and will honestly make their week.