Tag Archives: restaurants

Etiquette for Tipping

tipping etiquette

Yes, there is such thing as proper manners for tipping!

A friend told me a story about going out to a nice restaurant with a small group of eight people who were traveling together in Hawaii. It was one of those boutique restaurants that literally dot Lahaina on the island of Maui. There was lots of ambiance, great food, and – according to my friend – really excellent service.

My friend said that they had such a great time largely due to their server who had terrific suggestions from a menu that was filled with dishes that were a little unfamiliar. After a wonderful dinner they got their bill, paid it, and left.

Out in the parking lot, my friend suddenly realized that they forgot to include a tip. A few of her friends struck an, “Oh well” attitude and were ready just to leave. But my friend – being the kind of person she is – demanded that everyone contribute for a “nice” tip which everyone agreed the server certainly earned. She collected from everyone, went back inside and handed it to the server herself.

She looked at me and said, “How on Earth could I let that sit on my conscious?”

Not everyone is as militant about tips as we are. We all know people who would have been perfectly fine with “getting away” with not tipping the server.

Our attitude about tipping might be because my friend and I both have long professional experiences as restaurateurs. I owned restaurants for 20+ years and can tell you – with absolute certainty – that your server depends on his/her tips. The very nature of the restaurant business is a cooperative one. The server is the frontline ambassador in any restaurant, doing whatever is necessary to ensure that you have a great time.  Moreover, servers’ actual paychecks are very tiny (most of which goes to taxes) and they use their tips to pay their bills. It’s a big chunk of what they take home.

Some states have laws where tips are calculated as part of the server’s minimum wage.  California, where I live, isn’t one of them.  But, no matter which state you’re in, tipping etiquette stays the same. Think only of how the server has helped make your meal entertaining and enjoyable. That being said, the amount of tip you offer should definitely depend on the service received.

The only thing that’s missing for you to figure out is what’s the proper amount to tip. On that note, it’ll be easier to pare this down to a few simple points.

If you’re at a coffee/fast food spot (what we in the business call “quick service”) where you stand in line and take your own beverage/food to a table or out the door – tip about a $1 for the counter person.

If you’re at a bar, some slightly different rules apply. The bartender depends on their tips just as much as a server does.  It is acceptable to leave two dollars per drink as a tip. If the bartender has been particularly great or you had him/her jumping around making complicated cocktails, then it is good to add a bit extra. The bartender always remembers a customer who tips well!

If you’re at a sit-down restaurant and the service was as good as you hoped, the tip should be about 20%. If the service wasn’t so great, you can take the tip down to 15% or even lower.  But remember, if you do have a service issue – let the manager know. It’s probably the only way they will know and trust me; the feedback (assuming the complaint is warranted) will be appreciated.

Tips are very easy to calculate. Just look for the total amount – before tax (don’t calculate your tip on the tax) – and move the decimal point to the left once. So, if the bill is “$120”, now you have “12.0.” That’s 10%. Double that for 20%, and you have $24.00 for a tip! Some people think that you don’t need to tip on the wine/alcohol you’ve consumed at your table – you do.  The server has taken your orders, brought your beverages and poured the wine – that’s called service.

One last note. You know that “birthday” dessert the server brought over? You should still tip on it as if you were paying for the special dessert. After all, your server still served the dish!

The Art of ordering from a menu

Charcoal_venice_Oysters-Josper

Don’t covet your neighbor’s dinner – order for flavor and experience!

Reading a menu at your favorite restaurant can be a lot of fun (especially if they’ve added new items that you haven’t tried) unless you’ve waited too long to eat and you’re starving! Then your eyes start darting around and you’re completely distracted by all those beautiful dishes passing you by – and at nose level! I suggest buying time with some bread so that you can actually pay attention to the dishes that the chef spent so much time creating.  Go ahead, order the drinks to start and with a few bites of bread to calm those hunger pangs you’re ready to go.

Over the more than 20 years that I owned restaurants we approached menu creation logically.  When my chefs came to me with menu ideas, our goal was to create menus that offered guests a chance to experience a particular flavor combination using what was in season, especially if one of us had just returned from travel with new ideas. I wanted our guests to enjoy the food, the friendship that brought them to the table, but definitely not to envy each other’s dinner because they thought they’d ordered wrong.

That’s where the art of ordering from a menu comes into play.

Your response might be “Ordering from a menu is art?” Depending on the restaurant, yes; just as much as it is an art in preparing the food for you to enjoy.

When I was a child, my parents had friends from China who frequented our dinner table. It was at that time that I learned how many Asian families prepare and eat food: small dishes of all kinds of different preparations, shared around the table so that everyone got a taste of something different. It was one big social experience that happened to involve food.  I didn’t realize it then but it’s the perfect way to eat a meal – tasting multiple dishes.

Mexican and Spanish “tapas” (snacks or small plates) cuisine has evolved in the same way. Everyone orders their favorite dish to share with everyone else at the table – what we used to call “family style dining.” This style of restaurant (shared plates) and type of ordering has become extremely popular.  Everyone gets to order something that has caught their eye on the menu and the whole table gets to taste different dishes that they might not have tried before.

The traditional way of ordering from a menu, what you might call the “mainstream” approach, is to order by course – appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert (if you can manage it) – none of which is shared, except for maybe a bite or two that someone else at the table might ask to taste from what you had ordered. The problem is that many people look at the entrées first to decide what they want for their main course and then they decide if they want an appetizer or salad.  That is exactly the opposite of  what I do even if I’m at a traditional restaurant and not a tapas style place.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at Sfixio, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, Charcoal Venice, in Los Angeles where everything is wood-fired and delicious, or the incredible restaurant at The NoMad Hotel in New York City that I make sure I visit every time I’m there so I can indulge in as many appetizers as I can handle and still have room for “Chicken”.  I always order the same way.

Look at the menu carefully and you will see that the chef is his most creative in the appetizer section and perhaps even in side dishes.  I’ve found that these dishes tell more of the story of the chef and the type of food he wants to share than anywhere else on the menu.

If I am with at least one other person, we find at least two-three appetizers that we both are happy with, find a side dish or two that look good and then maybe share one entrée if we’re hungry.  Of course, if those appetizers look absolutely amazing then we might just add a couple more and skip the entrée all together.  If it’s a party of four, then I add at least one or two more appetizers, another side and a second entrée.

You will get to taste more items on the menu than if you just ordered by “course” and you’ll also understand better how the chef views food.  Perfect!

Then, of course, you might still have room for dessert.

Enjoy!


PHOTO: Oysters Josper, from Charcoal Venice

I will Travel Far and Wide for Good Food


One thing I know is that sometimes the food that I’m craving is not at a restaurant close by – wherever I am.  It doesn’t matter what city I’m in, whether I’m traveling or at home, this holds true.  There are a lot of Italian restaurants close to where I live, including my favorite that is within walking distance from my house.  But if I want Indian cuisine, I get in my car and drive about 15 minutes away to a favorite place in Culver City.  If I want to try the newest American place, it might be downtown or Santa Monica or in one of the beach cities- all perhaps at least 30 minutes away.  And, here’s the kicker, if I want great Dim Sum I drive over an hour. 

That’s just the deal.  Good food is worth the travel miles – it’s worth the gas and the traffic. If you want good food in a particular cuisine, you might need to drive. Just be prepared to do it.  You can’t always find what you’re looking for close by. I’ve found that the drive is part of the whole dining experience.  Gather your good friends together who are up for an adventure and GO.  You won’t regret it.  At least, I never do. 

SĀMBĀR: Craving Indian Cuisine in Los Angeles

SĀMBĀR

I love Indian food, but my favorite place closed a few years ago. I hadn’t been able to find a new place to satisfy my craving until recently when one of my best friends, Akasha Richmond, opened SĀMBĀR in Culver City, CA.

If you’re looking for wonderful flavors presented in a slightly untraditional way, then SĀMBĀR needs to be on your list of go-to restaurants. They’ve recently opened for lunch and have some fantastic salads and Kati Rolls on the menu if you want something lighter. For dinner, they offer a curry I thought I’d never eat in Los Angeles – Truck Stop Goat Curry. Don’t let the goat scare you. If I tell you it’s amazing – I wouldn’t be exaggerating. They have beautiful little samosas, oven roasted curried cauliflower and yogurt roasted vegetables to mention just a few of their vegetarian offerings. All of their sauces and chutneys are made in-house – the best! Their bar is incredibly creative, as well, with unusual spiced cocktails (using infused alcohols and flavors that are inspired by the cuisine), punches and their own take on the classics. Clare Ward, who created them all, is a genius and you’ll see her behind the bar most nights. For dessert, they serve a wonderful food memory of mine – soft serve ice cream. Oh my! Run, don’t walk. You won’t be disappointed.

Sfixio, Discover Your Secret Italian

I’m going to make a confession here – my favorite cuisine is Italian and my hands-down favorite Italian restaurant is Sfixio in Beverly Hills, CA.

It’s the closest to any food I’ve eaten in Italy that I can find in the States. So, think of it as getting your Italian fix, without the expense of traveling to that gorgeous place – imagine, Firenze in the spring.

Sfixio means “on a whim” in Italian slang and I’m so glad that Mara and Massimio (husband and wife owners) decided to open this “on a whim” in 2011.  At the time, I lived almost down the street and walked by one evening looking for a place to have dinner and went in.  I am SO glad I did.  It has been my “go to” place for a birthday celebration, the place I always take friends that I want to impress with great food but it’s especially my favorite when I don’t want to eat at home and am craving some fabulous Italian food (can you say all the time?).

Mara, who rules the front of house, is from Milan and Massimo, who’s the master in the kitchen, is from Florence so the atmosphere and cuisine are definitely Northern Italian.  This means a lighter hand in the kitchen and dining room- not your typical Italian (dark wood, red table cloths, etc.) restaurant atmosphere.  They have no freezer so everything is fresh including the pasta that is made to order and not before.

Do not expect huge American portions – these are the same size portions you will find in Italy.  That means that you eat courses here – you will not get a heaping bowl of pasta (actually they never use bowls for pasta) so don’t expect one.  Pasta is a course in Italy, and not a main course, a Primi Piatti – First Course.  That being said, I’ve come in for a simple salad and a pasta and been completely satisfied.  The sauces are always light and never over powering.

If you like truffle you must try their Truffle Caviar Pasta.  It’s a signature dish and not on the menu.  Do not expect caviar in the pasta as there isn’t any.  The caviar in the name refers to the shape of the little beads of truffle that are tossed in the fresh pasta.  This truffle caviar is imported from Italy regularly and is incredible tasting and incredibly rich in flavor.  This is a dish that contains cream as well so it’s not exactly dietetic but DEFINITELY worth the calories.  Amazing, to say the least, and worth every fabulous review it receives.

They have a wonderful whole grilled Branzino but my favorite fish on their current menu is the Salmon with Caponata.  They used to have it only as a special when Massimo would make the Caponata but it was so wonderful they’ve finally put it on their regular menu.  I can’t resist.  They also serve some wonderful beef, veal and chicken so everyone has something they can order.

Please save room for dessert.  I’m not a big sweet eater but Massimo’s desserts are so light I always save room.  My favorite is Ricottina con Amarene- a fresh ricotta served with imported Italian cherries.  Perfect.