Be a Hero. Tip the Kitchen.

In a moderately upscale Yakitori restaurant in Tokyo, a thick plexiglass divider stood between me and the chefs like the bulletproof windows that protect bank tellers from robbery. I watched as the chefs leaned over the smoldering binchōtan coals behind it, tending to their skewers like gardeners. The smoke from the grill was grey and thick like a coal mine but the chefs would not leave their crops unattended.

When the parade of skewered food was finally over, I summoned the waiter. Discreetly, I asked if he would bring another bottle of the same sake, pour a glass for me and bring the rest of the bottle to the kitchen to thank the chefs. As I finished my meal, I raised a glass to them and we shared a brief “Kanpai” before they returned to the Zen garden of chicken sticks. I wondered, as I toasted to their brilliance, why acknowledging the kitchen wasn’t something I did more regularly at home.

The controversy over tipping customs rightly questions whether tips should be shared with the kitchen. It’s a hot topic of conversation right now in hospitality circles, but as we search for a workable solution an important question arises: Why doesn’t anyone ever tip the kitchen?

One answer is obvious—guests aren’t given the opportunity to designate a gratuity for chefs. Leaving more for the kitchen may seem like an added extravagance to diners who are already fatigued by the rising cost of restaurants. However, considering how many people are blown away nightly by delicious food, it’s a wonder that so few people ever make even a small gesture to thank the people that made everything taste so good.

Situating the kitchen out of the guests’ view severs the possible connection that diners have with the people cooking for them. Cooks themselves often feel uncomfortable even setting foot in the dining room because they know that their presence breaks the fourth wall. For various reasons, most restaurants don’t want you to see what goes on behind the kitchen doors. It’s part of the illusion.

The magic of a restaurant is that beautiful food just appears without your needing to see the blood and sweat that went into making it. But even in open kitchens it’s rare for a guest to acknowledge the cooks. It’s ingrained in us that we are responsible for paying servers but most of us never think for a moment about doing the same for kitchen staff, even though cooks as a whole are paid considerably less. It’s reminiscent of the theater, where the audience applauds the actors while all of the tech people—lighting, sound and props—who are integral to the show’s success are ignored.

In the past, kitchen jobs have been looked down upon as vocational and unworthy of the same recognition given to servers, bartenders and sommeliers. But the restaurant business has changed. Many of today’s line cooks have gone to culinary school and spent years cooking in top restaurants, preparing complex dishes that require more training and expertise. These jobs are now highly specialized and deserving of more monetary rewards. Of course, diverting money from the tip pool seems like an obvious solution to paying cooks more. But early attempts to share the wealth have been fraught with problems. It may take years for our industry to find systems to balance pay in such a way that makes everyone happy.

In the meantime, when you have an amazing food experience, send a manager back to the kitchen with a cash tip or some other offering as a way of saying thanks. Buy a gift card from the restaurant where you’re dining and give it to the cooks, who rarely have an opportunity to dine where they work. If you feel comfortable, see if someone will escort you back to the kitchen so you can thank them personally. Chefs genuinely appreciate when guests are grateful, even if there aren’t material rewards attached.

Without a viable solution to tip sharing, restaurants should consider an optional tip line for the kitchen to give guests the opportunity to reward chefs. Of course, it may create confusion about the typical customs but “hospitality included” models are confusing for guests too. How much of my bill actually went to rewarding the staff for service? Let’s face it, most restaurant owners cannot be trusted to pay their staff equitably. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be so many stories of underpaid cooks at some of the most profitable restaurants in the country.

Before you get all grouchy about being asked to tip more, just remember that the cost of your meal is kept artificially low by the substandard salaries of the kitchen staff. Since it so rarely occurs, even a small gesture to thank the kitchen will go a long way. So, be a hero. Because magic doesn’t make the food so delicious, the chefs do.

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The Pretty Face At The Door

With gender inequality under scrutiny, the restaurant industry has been forced to take a long, uncomfortable look at itself in the mirror. The reflection hasn’t been very flattering. Despite all of this overdue introspection, though, we’ve ignored the part of a restaurant that has the worst gender imbalance: The Host Stand. Stationing attractive women as hostesses at the front door is one of the oldest and most misogynistic conventions of the modern restaurant and yet, by all accounts, its prevalence hasn’t provoked nearly the same outrage as the subjugation of female chefs in the kitchen.

Go into any of your city’s top restaurants and invariably you’ll be greeted at the door by a young, attractive woman. If a man greets you, he is likely a maitre d, who has greater responsibilities like managing the reservation book, configuring seating arrangements and overseeing guest relations; he will rarely leave the podium to shepherd guests to their tables. Of course, there are many female maitre d’s in the industry too, but you won’t see many of them flanked by male hosts in the way that gaggles of hostesses often surround male maitre d’s like Charlie’s Angels. Unlike their male counterparts, female maitre d’s will often have their authority questioned by male patrons who see a woman’s face at the door and assume she’s just a hostess.

As we delve deeper into the dysfunctions of our industry and its antiquated attitudes toward gender, it’s about time we question the standard practice of displaying hostesses as showpieces. Whereas most other positions in the restaurant are measured by competence, hostesses are hired and judged primarily by their looks. Since restaurant managers are overwhelming male, female candidates for door positions are often scrutinized like beauty pageant contestants. Restaurants like The Coffee Shop in New York City are notorious for only hiring models to work as hostesses. Of course, the visibility these women receive may open doors for their modeling careers but what about the hard-working, non-model applicants who were discriminated against?

Restaurants tend to recruit college-age women looking for part-time income. Hostess jobs pay poorly but they attract students who have classes during the day and can only work nights. Whether they admit it or not, restaurant managers (even female ones) will often hire more attractive women with less restaurant experience over less attractive women who have more. Management may also enforce strict dress codes for their hostesses like requiring they wear heels on the floor or specific-length skirts and dresses. These strict uniform guidelines rarely apply to male staff members.

Young women with limited professional experience can struggle dealing with inappropriate behavior by male supervisors or patrons. Hostesses become defenseless targets when male VIPs or investors leverage their preferred status to solicit favors or special treatment. Since hostesses are trained to be obsequious, their affability is often misconstrued as interest. Rejecting the attention of an important male client or refusing to comply with a male supervisor’s demands may threaten their job security.

In one of the most public cases of restaurant harassment, Martha Nyakim Gatkuoth—a 25 year-old Ethiopian runway model who worked as a hostess at Tavern On The Green—filed a lawsuit in 2008 alleging improprieties by management that resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement. According to the complaint, female hostesses were pressured to perform sexual acts by management and threatened with punitive action if they refused. After the Manhattan District Attorney dropped the criminal case, the E.E.O.C. intervened on behalf of over fifty workers who corroborated her story of institutionalized abuse before the case was settled out of court. It’s hard not to look back on this case as a harbinger of the #MeToo movement but also wonder why it took so long for women like Ms. Gatkuoth to have their voices heard.

As long as we continue to objectify hostesses and train them to be docile, their voices will continue to be muffled. If we want women to be featured more prominently in restaurants, then we must acknowledge the fact that their most visible role is a passive one. In the same way that management has lagged behind in hiring more women in key FOH positions, restaurants need to diversify their door staff to include more men. Changing the gender dynamic at the entrance of a restaurant sends a strong message to guests that the owners care about hiring the most qualified people, not just a pretty face.

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The Truth About Restaurant Reservations

Making a reservation at a busy restaurant can be a total clusterfuck. You have your favorite place on speed dial thirty days in advance and when you finally get through they’re already booked solid? But it’s my mother-in-law’s 65th birthday and she loves your restaurant!! You beg and plead on the phone but to no avail. Even with advance notice, why is it so difficult for the average Joe to get the reservations they want? Some reasons are obvious like supply and demand. There just aren’t enough tables to accommodate everyone. But a few hidden truths are a little more eye-opening. Here are five secrets you might not know about restaurant reservations:

Restaurants hold tables for VIP guests and regulars – Cultivating a loyal clientele is critical to any restaurant’s success. We know where our bread is buttered and will reward our prodigal customers with preferred status. This often results in blocking access to certain tables to ensure they’re available for valued guests. Restaurants also benefit from having celebrity clientele whose schedules are often too unpredictable to book ahead of time. If we don’t cater to the needs of our most important regulars, they’ll take their notoriety and loyalty somewhere else. A nifty trick: Call for same day reservations in the early afternoon since they may release those last minute holds and make them available to the public.

Private concierge services monopolize prime reservation times for their clients – You probably didn’t know but there are companies who get paid to reserve tables at exclusive restaurants. Corporate clientele will fork over top dollar for access to popular reservations without the hassle of advance planning. Whether you realize or not, every time you attempt to make a reservation at a busy restaurant you are competing with shadowy gangs of professional concierge services who are paid to beat you to the punch. These relationships are usually mutually beneficial which gives concierges priority status over random suckers.

No tables are available because of your party size – Restaurants only have a finite number of tables that can accommodate specific denominations. If you’re calling for a party of six, you may be told no because the restaurant only has a few tables in the dining room that can comfortably fit six people. For parties of four, on the other hand, they may have significantly more availability. It’s worth asking the reservationist if there are smaller or larger tables available when you’re booking and adjusting your party size accordingly.

Restaurant Reservations Can Be Soul-CrushingYou need a connection to get in – Some restaurants like Rao’s in New York City only open their doors to insiders. You either know someone who has a table there or you’re eating somewhere else. Loyalty is the best way to build these relationships. That’s how they did it back in the day at Rao’s and that’s how they do it now everywhere else. Don’t expect preferred status without earning it. Restaurant relationships are just like relationships you have with significant others. Expecting intimacy without trust leads to rejection. Take time to get to know the staff, tip them well and eventually, if you’re lucky, they’ll be ready to consummate the relationship.

Restaurants have a dossier on you in their reservation system and your record may be worse than you think – Management will never forget that time you took up a table for five hours on a busy Saturday night or when everyone in your party got shit-faced on 1942 tequila shots and someone puked in the bathroom. Most reservationists will ask your name before offering you a booking so they may access any biographical information you have on file. If you’ve dined there before and have a prior record, a restaurant may mark you as “Do Not Accommodate.” Even a spotty history of cancellations or no-shows may cause you to be blackballed. Keep your rap sheet clean, and you should have nothing to worry about.

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