Tipping your server or a bartender is one of those things you must do when you go out (though not everyone agrees we should), along with mindlessly checking your phone for new texts even though you didn't even feel it vibrate. And yet, no one tips the chef when they go out. It's not an option.
We're here to propose a radical idea: that it's about time we tip the people who help put our meals together. And not just the chefs: everyone in the back of the house.
We do not think executive chefs or sous chefs need to be tipped. Those positions are generally well compensated, and many of them already have bonuses built into their compensation package. We're talking about tipping the people in the kitchen who make $10-$12 an hour. The line cook prepping the mise en place, the prep cook washing the kale, and the dishwasher doing the dishes. Like an old man in a retirement home, plates don't wash themselves.
To get the back of the house's opinion, we spoke to four chefs who told us what they thought about being tipped. They answered anonymously because what they had to say will not make their server friends happy.
So why should we tip chefs? Three simple reasons.
Your dining experience would improve
Giving everyone in the back of the house a bonus in the form of a tip would motivate the kitchen crew to work in concert with servers, and together they would perform a beautiful dance, like that show on TV where everybody dances. A chef de cuisine cited a restaurant in Hawaii that did tip chefs, and he noted that the cooks "cared a bit more because they were more involved. They're depending on that [extra] money". An exec chef said that chefs are sometimes frustrated that no matter how good the restaurant they work at is, that their compensation isn't going to change.
Having a common goal in mind would shift a chef's mindset from, "your food will be ready when it's ready" to giving them pride in their efficiency. A more efficient kitchen means faster meals, happier customers, which could translate into higher tips for servers. Everyone wins.
Tipping is a lopsided reward for servers/bartenders
According to an Economic Policy Institute report, chefs make a median wage of $12.34 p/hour. This puts them under the poverty line. Granted, restaurant workers as a whole are only earning $10 p/hour, but someone working in the back of house has a static wage that doesn't change. A server or bartender's wage can improve dependent on how busy the restaurant/ bar is, and how well they perform their job.
And let's compare how long a server works compared to a chef -- "... the guys in the kitchen work 8-10 hours, and it's well known that at a busy restaurant, they make half the amount a server can make in a five-hour shift." Less pay, more hours. Even more disturbing is that it barely leaves them any time in the day to play Madden '15.
Chefs do back-breaking work critical to a restaurant's success
Servers and bartenders do not have it easy by any means, but giving short shrift to a chef's work (now say it five times fast) is laughable. In addition to being surrounded by sharp objects all day, there's nary a chef that hasn't sustained injuries like severe burns or a bad back thanks to a normal day on the job. Plus, it's hot back there in the kitchen. Unfathomably hot.
No one is saying that if you have a job that requires hard, physical labor that you deserve a tip. Ok, outside of exotic dancers. They earn every scrunched up dollar bill. But it seems chefs do all of the grunt work and get none of the glory.
With the exception of a chef/owner we spoke to who thought our proposal to tip chefs was unnecessary, the other chefs believed that a 5% cut of what the servers receive is a reasonable expectation for what they contribute to our dining experience. As one chef put it, "Busers and food runners get between 4-5%, so the guys in the back sweating their butts off deserve at least 5%."
I was recently in a restaurant in Portland with a friend when I noticed a footnote at the bottom of the menu. It said that customers would be charged 5% to make sure every employee in the restaurant got health insurance and a living wage. The restaurant was packed. Clearly no one seemed to mind. It added up to another few bucks on our total bill.
I've never been happier to pay an extra $3 at dinner. If 5% can change the lives of everyone in the back of the house, why isn't this happening everywhere?
Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and thinks journalists should be tipped as well. Follow him at @LeeBreslouer for reasoned economic theory discussions.