Some Tips on Tips

I think it’s time we talked about tips.

It’s you, not me. Trust me.

In the several years I’ve lived in Utah (from northern to central), I’ve heard the same thing — Utahns are horrible tippers. I’d like to give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s because they just haven’t ever been taught correctly rather than they’re tightwads or rude, so. A lesson in tipping.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

First of all, the Why

Tipping is merely a reward for excellent service. I know, I know, you served a mission in Europe and you never had to tip anyone and that’s how it should be in America, etc. etc. I get it — sometimes tipping is what pushes the final cost over the edge. But the bottom line is that tipping falls under proper etiquette, and if you’re not willing to follow through, better to stay at home and make your own meals. Remember that ofttimes, your tips are not merely for your server but also distributed amongst the hosts, busboys, and cooks. The more you stiff who you think is only your server, the more you stiff everyone who made your entire experience from start to finish a good one.

Let’s Talk Percentages

If you were to a server right now who really thought he/she was hot stuff, you’d probably hear something like 20% or 25% rolling around in the conversation. And there’s entirely the possibility that you will be provided with excellent enough service to warrant that, but the national average is somewhere between 15% and 18%. Typically, restaurants will automatically add an 18% gratuity to large groups, and that’s simply because a large group requires a lot more attention and can often take away from the server’s other tables, even inadvertently. Taking an order and making sure glasses are always full for two people doesn’t really take that much mindpower, but for nine? Plus four other tables? Now we’re talking real, hard work.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

I personally like to tip on something of a sliding scale. There has only been one instance during which I did not leave any tip at all, and I later called the manager to discuss the remarkably poor service I received. Most of the time, I’m a 15-percenter, but depending upon the quality of food, the niceness of the restaurant, or the amount I order, that number can easily fluctuate. If I go somewhere and only order a dessert, for example, that server might be looking at a very measly 50 cent tip off me, so I’ll usually do $1 or $2.  The largest tip I ever left was probably about 200%, but I ordered something really, really cheap and the other people with whom I was spending time at the restaurant ordered water.

[An aside: seriously don’t ever go somewhere and just order water. Don’t. Ever.]

If the service is impeccable — we’re talking our water glasses were never empty, but we didn’t feel bombarded by beverage (it’s like they’re encouraging you to use their toilets or something, right!?), the food came out in a timely manner (and I’m not just talking fast — that also refers to entrees that didn’t come out seconds after the appetizers so our table is littered with plates), it was fresh, hot, and the server was attentive to our needs, then I’m apt to tip 25% regardless of how much we spent. Good service deserves good reward.

Under very few circumstances is 10% an acceptable tip. We’ll get to that later.

Something to consider

At this point, you’re probably saying something about how the servers are paid normal wages and your tips aren’t really that necessary. In Oregon, that’s mostly true (although there’s something about re-distribution and taxes that I don’t fully comprehend), and I imagine it’s that way in other states across the nation. In Utah, however, that isn’t true at all. In fact, the average starting wage of a server in the state of Utah is $2.13. Yeah, you heard me. About $2/hour — probably less than your parents made when they started working (or very close to it). The rationale is that these servers will make enough in tips to bring them up to the minimum wage requirement during the workday, and if they don’t, then they will be paid minimum wage.

Therefore, if only a few of you tip, or all of you tip really poorly, this kid is either going to end up working 40 hours a week barely making minimum wage or making nothing more than minimum wage for a job that is actually really difficult. I’ve been in the restaurant industry — it’s fast-paced, exhausting, dirty, and really frustrating, and it’s about ten times more difficult than any other job I’ve ever had (barring the tax processing job I had during tax season one year — that was slightly more stressful, although cleaner). You have to make everyone happy — the hosts are breathing down your neck to move faster so they can seat more customers that have been waiting, you’ve got the customers that have been waiting and are about ready to eat each other and want their food instantaneously, there are the cooks that are working at whatever pace they’d like, regardless of all this, and chances are your manager is also keeping an eye on you. It’s micromanaging at its best (and most finite).

When you have a coupon

Just because you have a coupon that gets you a free drink or dessert or buy one entree, get one free, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. For example: If your dinner should have cost $40, but you managed to get it for only $25, still tip for the $40. The work was put in, the food came out, it was simply free to you. Your tip won’t be that much higher in the end, and you already got a discount to begin with. I feel like I should repeat this part till it’s really ingrained in your mind: Just because you have a coupon that gets you free food, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. If that’s how you’ve been living, paradigm shift and change.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

When you’re at a buffet

Although you’re getting all the food yourself, there’s still a nice person coming around making sure your table isn’t covered in a million plates by the end of the meal. Tip that person $1-$2 per customer.

Hey, that’s some nice ambiance

Is there live music being performed that’s really adding to the mood? Tip the musician! I usually just do $2 or $3, but I’ve seen anywhere from $5 bills in the bowl to $20 bills. Whatever you think is appropriate for the service rendered.

Some General Rules of Thumb

If you eat out at a sit-down restaurant, where a server takes your order, brings you food, ensures your water glasses are always full, and then is your cashier at the end of the meal, tip 15% at the least.

If you’re somewhere that has only counter service and a tip jar, TIP THAT PERSON. Since they’re doing “less work” (although I’ve done counter service before, and that’s pretty debatable), you can tip 10% since you’re most likely in charge of taking the food back to your table, filling your glasses, and bussing your tables. Counter service is probably the most under-tipped job, and that’s a travesty. After all, they’re still taking care of the hard parts for you.

If you order something to go that allows you to pull up, park in a convenient location, and grab your hot, packaged food, 15% is quite appropriate, but you can leave it at 10% since it’s akin to counter service.

If you have terrible service, speak to a manager before doing something rude and leaving a few pennies from your linty pocket in retaliation. Often, you can end up with an apology and free food.

In some instances (this is dependent upon the state), the server can hold onto a larger percentage of his/her cash tips than credit card.

Other instances where tips are necessary

Hair salon (10-15%)

Nail salon (10-15%)

Housekeeping at a hotel ($5/night — after all, they’re essentially cleaning a studio apt. every day)

Valet service ($3-$5 each time you collect your vehicle)

Luggage assistance ($3-$5/bag, so generally I cart my own luggage around hotels)

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Chef’s Table

The place: Chef’s Table, right off State Street between Provo and Orem, at 2005 South State Street, Orem, UT 84097

Contact info: online at http://chefstable.net/, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 235-9111

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Fri / 11 – 2, 5 – 10
  • Dinner:  Sat / 5 – 10

About: Fresh, creative, local, energetic, passionate — this is how we would describe the feel of Chef’s Table. Come and see what we mean. Source: Chef’s Table website, http://chefstable.net/fine-dining/owners/, edited by author.

The ambiance: This is fine dining at, well, its finest. The exterior is fairly misleading, and you’ll probably end up surprised at how large and roomy it is once you enter. The tables are all set with linens and water goblets, and there is a lovely view of Provo from one of the back rooms. It’s clear the entire staff has been well trained on how to provide for each diner an excellent experience, and they are both attentive and stay out of the way; you never feel hovered over nor do you feel neglected.

Photo courtesy of Chef's Table on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/chefstableutah/photos_stream

Photo courtesy of Chef’s Table on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/chefstableutah/photos_stream

The Munch: Because we went on Valentine’s Day, there was a prix fixe menu, so the offerings might not be what you’ll find if you visit on a regular weeknight. There were five courses, including a sparkling cider toast (during which Husband and I toasted to not killing each other by now), all of which were better than the last. We had:

  • hand made cheese straws with marinated olives
  • fresh baked “stone ground” rolls and Chef’s Table herb butter
  • sparkling cider toast
  • wild mushroom crostini
  • roasted potato bisque
  • tuscan romaine wedge salad
  • mesquite grilled “Ballard Farms” pork rib eye
  • Alaskan halibut with rock shrimp risotto
  • macadamia crusted baby cheesecake
  • chocolate brownie mousse cake

The cheese straws and marinated olives were only okay, but that’s largely because I abhor olives in their many forms, and I’m still fairly unsure as to what their definition of cheese straws actually is. I assumed they’d be made entirely of cheese, but their texture led me to believe otherwise. The rolls were some of the most delicious dinner rolls I’ve ever had in my life, and I was sad when I wasn’t able to lure the young woman back over and steal the entire breadbasket.

The amuse bouche (wild mushroom crostini) was the epitome of a perfect bite of food. Your teeth would sink into the tender mushrooms and basil roast tomato, then meet the satisfying crunch of the crostini, and the goat cheese foam was perfectly balanced — just a little salty and a wonderful texture to offset the rest of the ingredients. It was an eye closer for me, and I rarely have those during a meal.

Wild Mushroom Crostini

Since we were dining together and are more than happy to share our offerings, my husband and I always choose as many options as we can. He ordered the salad, and I ordered the soup, and I was more willing to share mine with his because I am a better person. The potato bisque was velvety smooth and not grainy at all, which can easily happen with such a starchy base. It was topped with crisp bacon, leeks, and a lemon oil, and the flavors melded together really well. The lemon oil added a nice, fresh brightness to the earthy soup, and the bacon and leeks were good, rich additions as well. The romaine wedge salad was also really excellent; the lettuce was crisp and came with a bruschetta vinaigrette, mozzarella, and some of the best aged balsamic I’ve ever tasted. It was equal parts tangy and sweet, and is something I would certainly order if offered.

Tuscan Romaine WedgeRoasted Potato Bisque

There were six entree selections to choose from, and I decided that we should have gone out with two other couples so I could have tasted each. However, neither of us were disappointed with our decisions, as they were remarkably delicious. Husband opted for the pork rib eye, which was served with a BBQ cherry demi-glace, glazed onions, candied sweet potatoes, and roasted broccolini. The portion was quite sizable, but it was still tender and perfectly cooked; the demi-glace was a little smoky and sweet and paired very well with the pork and onions. We gobbled up the candied sweet potatoes before anything else, and the roasted broccolini was also delicious and well cooked — neither burnt nor mushy.

Mesquite Grilled Ballard Farms Pork Loin

My seared halibut was probably some of the most well-prepared fish I’ve had the pleasure of ordering out, which is saying something since I come from the Pacific NW and have eaten at several oceanside restaurants. Halibut is probably my favorite fish, so long as it is prepared correctly, because when it is the flavor is mild and the texture is firm but flaky. It was served atop risotto with rock shrimp and fresh herbs, which was creamy and flavorful, and also came with baby asparagus spears with a hint of lemon. I rarely order asparagus at restaurants because it is often overcooked and thusly mushy (I live in fear of mushy food, as you can probably tell), but this asparagus was fresh and crisp and had a wonderful flavor.

Seared Halibut with Rock Shrimp Risotto

For dessert, there were four options, but I believe we ordered the two best offerings. The cheesecake had an almost ethereal texture, and the macadamia nut crust was a nice departure from regular graham cracker. It was served with a berry compote and sweet cream, both of which were perfect accoutrements to the delicious cheesecake. The chocolate brownie mousse cake had a double brownie base topped with a classic dark chocolate mousse, and the pairing of the rich flavors and differing textures was perfect. I savored each bite and was sad when my plate was empty.

Macadamia Crusted Baby CheesecakeDouble Brownie Mousse cake

The bill: $123.77, including tax and tip. For a five-course meal in a fine dining establishment (particularly one that offered up reasonable portions rather than a few bites of food that forced you to go through the drive-thru on your way home), this felt like a steal. If ordering from the everyday menus, however, expect to pay somewhere around $20 a person for lunch and $40 a person for dinner, although that price can fluctuate depending upon whether you opt for appetizers, salads, soups, and/or desserts.

Total score: 10/10. This is only the second perfect score I have issued to a restaurant in Utah county, but I found no fault in the ambiance, service, or food at Chef’s Table. It was a perfect dining experience, and I look forward to joining them again.