Tip Out is the Key

Recently there has been much activity and discussion on 13 Ways to Piss Off the Back of House, and it appears that the majority of conversation has revolved around the kitchen getting tipped out.

For those outside the industry, it is common for servers to give some of their tips to the back of house people that also helped with a table (cooks, dishwashers, runners, food expeditors, hosts) and is referred to as “getting a tip out”, or “being tipped out”.

Let’s talk hypotheticals. Restaurant X does lunch and dinner service 7 days a week, and requires 5 servers, 1 host, 1 runner, 1 expo, and three line cooks. That makes a total of 6 support staff and 5 servers/shift. The host paces the service, distributing groups in the most effective way throughout the restaurant in each servers section. This allows the server to properly attend to each guest and helps them avoid getting in the weeds, not to mention helping to protect the kitchen from getting slammed all at once. The runner runs the food to the proper table, relays any messages from tables to appropriate servers, helps bus tables, etc. The expo stays in the kitchen and ensures that the right food gets from the kitchen to the right table. The cooks pour their heart and soul into pumping out the highest possible quality food in the shortest amount of time. You can see how each person in this scenario plays an integral role to a positive guest experience.

Even if we are modest, and guess that each server sells $1000 in their shift, and conservative in asking them to tip out 2% to support/kitchen staff then it adds another $83.33 to each BOH persons check each week (1000x5x.02/6×5, $1000 by 5 servers times 2%, divided by 6 support working 5 days a week). That’s $333.32 per month. It costs the server $20 each shift. Extrapolating further, if the server averages a 15% tip, they walk out of the restaurant with $110 in their pocket after tipping BOH.

Things got really technical there for a minute so lets zoom out, because here’s the thing: the actual amount of money that passes hands matters very little. Classically, there is a very palpable divide between the two worlds of BOH and FOH. The kitchen is a place where dirty minds find friends, the more crass you are the funnier, the more hardcore the more respected. We like to think of ourselves as warriors, armed with knives, fighting the heat, bringing beauty to chaos, nothing stopping us from doing our job. The front of house sees themselves as badasses too, with memories like elephants, and able to roll cutlery, run food, clean a table, place an order and repeat for hours on end while making each guest cared for. With two large egos competing, neither respects the other. But what if these two enemies did?

Tipout is the Key

I love you man. You do you, I’ll do me, can’t stop, won’t stop.

The simple gesture of throwing a bit of money to the back of house acknowledges that everyone shares in the experience of a guests visit to a restaurant. After managing the FOH I know that the overcooked steak is reflected in the servers tip, why should the BOH not suffer for this failure? A server punched in one persons penne carbonara without stating the guest wanted no bacon for a table on Saturday night, and the kitchen pumps it out in less than five minutes. Why should they not be rewarded for that magic? Having everyone benefit immediately from guests having positive experiences motivates both camps to be exceptional at their jobs.

Here’s how that previous example goes now in many kitchens. The server realizes their mistake, curses loudly in their head, runs back to expo and tells the expo. Expo now shudders in anticipation of the kitchens reaction to the news but works up the courage and communicates the issue. The kitchen says that’s nice, they’ll get it when they get it. The server storms out fuming, the kitchen is pissed because now they have to double the work for that guest, and a remake completely interrupts their clockwork-precise flow. They make the pasta in 7 minutes, but it is clearly thrown together and the guest is nonplussed. It’s Saturday, they are incredibly busy, can you blame them?

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the server realized their mistake (or more often than not their guests mistake in failing to mention they are deathly allergic to bacon that day) and instead of cursing told themselves no sweat, kitchen has my back. They rush back to expo who immediately calls across to the line who acknowledges it and has the pasta dropped before expo even finishes talking. Sautee then remakes that pasta with every bit of love that they did the first time, plates it beautifully, and rushes it out. It hits the table in four minutes. The guest is blown away that they were taken care of so quickly and with such care that they tip generously.

Tip out is the key.

Tip Out is the Key

Damnit Dave…

There have been attempts to end the entire subject of tipping in the restaurant industry. Smoke and Water pioneered No Tip Dining in Canada’s Vancouver Island on June 2nd, 2014. Clearly stated on the menu was their policy that each server got paid a proper hourly wage, and as such, tips were not allowed by guests. In order to make up for the greater wages being paid to the servers, the cost was baked into more honest menu prices. Fair enough, as guests simply paid the number at the bottom of their presented check and that was that.

It lasted 3 months (check out the server vs cooks wages in the article).

If everyone received tips for good service we would all work as a team, get compensated as a team, and deliver as a team. The result would be a harmonious and thriving restaurant with happy employees. It would turn me vs. you into us. Put everyone in the same boat. For hard work, there is a monetary reward, and please don’t say this shouldn’t matter, it’s ultimately why every one of us works every job, to make the money we need to live our lives.

Tip out is the key.

6 Responses to “Tip Out is the Key”
  1. Chef Mike says:

    Tipping out only helps, but it will NEVER offset the disparity of FOH/BOH.

    Even if each of the 4 servers tosses $5.00 cash to each to the 5 of us out the back (1 dishwasher, 3 cooks and expo/runner), that would be $100 or $20.00 each, divided out over my 8-10 hour shift meaning maybe a $2.00 per hour benefit.

    For that princely sum, I have 10 years as a working chef, a university degree and a college diploma, now let’s review what skill set and training most servers have…that was quick…

    In Ontario they get base rate of $10.50 per hour, while a top cook might get $18.00 per hour, (MAYBE!) If she (yes, it’s 75% “she” serving in this business…) sells her $1000.00 per shift and only gets 16%, she gets another $160.00, minus the $20.00 she graces the BOH with for her 6 hour shift.

    The server walks out the door after her 6 hour shift with $63.00 in wages and at least $140.00 largely non-taxable tips, and the top line cook walks out after his 8 hour shift with $144 taxable dollars, plus the $20.00 graced upon them by the FOH…

    And that my friends, is BULLSHIT, and that disparity is the fundamental reason why we BOH will always resent/hate the FOH.

    The upside is that owners are replacing servers with types of technology, but cooks/chefs are much more valuable and harder to replace, while the vast majority of servers are interchangeable.

    Tipping out helps, but the problem is much bigger…

    • thecheflife says:

      I agree that tipping out is not, in and of itself, the solution to the rift between the FOH and BOH. As stated in the most recent article published here (link below), tipping out the kitchen is more a gesture than anything else. An indication that we are all in this together. A motivator to both camps to get along, treat each other with respect, and have each others back. The more they sell, the happier the customer, the better the tips are for everyone not just the server.

  2. While I am not a chef, but have been married to one for 19 years, all this sounds so familiar. Well said!! (And thanks for posting the link back to your previous post at the top. Loved that one as well.)

  3. Gray says:

    In Australia, minimum wage is far higher than here & tipping is very rare. With waiters & bar staff making $15+/hr (their $ is pretty well parity to ours), you might tip for table service but not bar service.

  4. Chef Mike says:

    I went to cooking school in Australia and the “tax in tip in” pricing was such a welcome change from North America and our tip-obsessed culture. I know this I an American problem much more than a Canadian one, but what is the core problem of not paying a living fucking wage?? You will never hear an owner or a GM ever say “boy I wish I could get and keep my servers” but they sure as shit say that all the time about their cooking staffs.

    If you want tipping out to be more than a bullshit patronizing gesture, than make it 5% or 6% of sales or something that truly reflects the efforts of BOH, 2% just pisses us off. And 2% doesn’t make this a team, doesn’t make me want to get along with the bitchy head waiter more today than I did yesterday, or work even HARDER to have her back when she fucks up and forgets the well done I need keyed in first for my grill guy to start…

    Most of the servers I work with know how good the they have it, considering how limited a skill set you truly need to do the job, and the smart ones know that technology will soon replace the vast majority of them,

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