May 5, 2016

Should Chefs Receive Tips?

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In recent months, a debate has emerged within almost every corner of the restaurant industry: whether wait staff should be tipped or not. Proponents say that tipping not only gives waiters and waitresses something resembling a living wage, but also promotes productivity. The opponents of tipping, meanwhile, believe customers shouldn’t have to pay more and that managers should simply give the wait staff a much higher base salary.

While people in the industry go back and forth on the issue, another valuable point’s been raised: should chefs also receive tips? As is the case with the wait staff debate, the concept of tipping chefs is nuanced, with plenty of support on either side. Here’s what you as culinary graduates should consider when forming your own opinion:

More money, better service
Lee Breslouer is a longtime columnist for The Thrillist. While he believes that chefs should receive tips, he qualified his position as part of an October 2014 essay. Specifically, he believes that tips should only go to those kitchen employees who make minimum wage or less, which in many restaurants includes line cooks, prep cooks and even dishwashers. His biggest argument for spreading the tips around mirrors those for wait staff: a customer’s dining experience would drastically improve. Breslouer mentioned speaking to one chef in Hawaii who said that chefs in his restaurant tended to care more as they earned extra money. That’s because it’s a way for management to make the chefs feel more engaged, to help them feel as if they’re important even if they’re not always making the highest wage possible. Breslouer believes that happier chefs are also more efficient, as they want to serve the patrons, and that means a more successful restaurant overall.

A matter of opportunities 
As far as barmen are concerned, Jim Meehan is an icon, having worked at several New York City establishments before departing to Portland to continue slinging cocktails. In fall 2013, just as the tipping debate began to rage, Meehan sat down with Eater to share his thoughts. Meehan’s take is fairly straightforward, saying that higher wages for kitchen staff should be the responsibility of the owners and not the wait staff. However,he has some unique reasoning behind that opinion: there are way more career opportunities for chefs than waiters or dishwashers. That is, a chef can eventually move up the ladder, and when they become a chef de cuisine or sous chef, they’ll make far more money than even the highest paid bartender or waiter. He went on to add that “changing the tip system so that the kitchen is in the pool is robbing Peter to give to Paul.” Waiters, he said, deserve tips because they’re part of a restaurant’s “salesforce,” helping promote meals and drinks alike.

A brand new system 
Given that tips play a huge part in a person’s ability to support themselves and their family, it might be hard to ever reach a true consensus. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Danny Meyer, chief executive of the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, took such bold action recently. As the New York Times reported, in fall 2015, Meyer eliminated tipping entirely at his 13 NYC restaurants. Meyer raised menu prices by 20 percent, explaining that there will be a single total for all patrons, comparing it to “buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers.” Meyer added he made the move to cut the increasing pay gap between chefs and servers. Wages for the Union Square group’s 1,800 employees were expected to remain the same, and 80 percent of staff experienced a pay increase. While Meyer’s opinion might be unpopular with some restaurant staff, it’s important to consider every option during this important conversation.