Giving a gift to restaurant staff?
February 11, 2015 6:59 AM   Subscribe

We're planning a dinner to celebrate a milestone birthday. We'd like to do something to acknowledge the extra work for the staff we represent. We were thinking a gift for the staff, but we don't know the etiquette of this.

My spouse's parents are hosting a dinner to celebrate a milestone birthday. We have reservations for eight at our longtime favorite restaurant. We'd like to do something to acknowledge the extra work for the staff we represent (in addition to usual service and cutting and plating a cake I will bring in from outside, there might be some difficult personalities). We were thinking a gift for the staff such as a couple bottles of champagne, but we don't know the etiquette of this. Before or after service? Is a gift of alcohol problematic? Would another gift be more appropriate? Thanks.
posted by werkzeuger to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just give them a bigger tip, rather than worrying about what to buy them. If you want to go above and beyond, write a nice letter praising specific workers to their manager/corporate.
posted by fermezporte at 7:01 AM on February 11, 2015 [45 favorites]

They're the staff, so an extra tip would probably be the best gift you can give them.
posted by xingcat at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If this were me, I would get a thank-you card and write something nice about the restaurant and the staff and then provide an extra large tip to be divided amongst the servers. (Perhaps discuss this with the manager beforehand to make sure it's split up as you prefer.) Any material gift for a large group of people known only in a professional capacity is going to have drawbacks - someone will be in recovery or allergic to gluten or boycotting Target or whatever.

The nice card is important, though - letting people know that you appreciate them and their particular work.
posted by Frowner at 7:03 AM on February 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

This is literally what tipping is for.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:06 AM on February 11, 2015 [13 favorites]

fermezporte has it. Good tip, and also specific written praise that can go in their personnel file or whatever. You don't know who's trying hard to stay sober, just doesn't like champagne, is desperately broke and needs money way more than a drink, etc. Money and praise work for pretty much everyone.
posted by Stacey at 7:08 AM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding everyone. Pad the tip, and write a note thanking the staff c/o the manager if you really thought they went above and beyond.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:13 AM on February 11, 2015

A heads-up about the potential difficulties and a very generous tip is the best thing you can do.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:14 AM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make the entire tip for the night in cash, and make it bigger than usual.
posted by cooker girl at 7:15 AM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, higher tip.
posted by jaguar at 7:15 AM on February 11, 2015

And by 'higher tip', everyone means 'more than the standard 20%' --- personally, I'd tip at least 40% for this.
posted by easily confused at 7:17 AM on February 11, 2015

(Because consider the practicalities: Kitchen staff plus wait staff plus maitre d' plus bussers plus anyone else involved in preparing and serving a meal for eight people can't split a couple bottles of champagne to take home, and they most likely shouldn't drink it on the job, and they most likely don't want to stick around after work to share it. Other physical gifts have similar limitations. Increasing the tip is also a way of acknowledging and appreciating that staff is working with you in their professional capacity, which deserves pay.)
posted by jaguar at 7:19 AM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

You are the kind of customers I dreamed about when I was waiting tables. Yep, cold hard cash is the way to go here. And a card with a nice note.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:21 AM on February 11, 2015

Response by poster: Got it. This is a small, non-corporate restaurant with less than 20 staff. We'd be happy to pad the tip (with cash) but we'll have to be careful as the inlaws are hosting this and we don't want to offend them. We always tip about 30-35% at this restaurant, but we're pretty sure our hosts wont go that high.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:22 AM on February 11, 2015

You should check the language in the booking contract (if any) that reserves the space for your event - it's fairly standard for places that do "catering" or other private events to allow or require the booker to provide for staff gratuity. You may also wish to check with the sales person or manager with whom you are working to ensure your wishes are seen to - any food service professional should be very happy to help you ensure the workers get your financial gesture of thanks.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:23 AM on February 11, 2015

Do you know the manager or owner, at least by sight? Can you bring in an extra $50 or whatever in an envelope and pass it to the manager with a request to divide it appropriately among the staff serving you?
posted by jaguar at 7:25 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We were hoping to make a gesture for the kitchen staff, not just front of house. Will a simple cash tip get to the kitchen?
posted by werkzeuger at 7:28 AM on February 11, 2015

Kitchen staff: Buy a case of beer. Something light and easy that you'd drink on the back of a lawnmower on a humid 95 degree July day. They'll pop them at the end of the day while they're cleaning up, so something in cans is probably preferable to bottles. If that's not quite enough, just have a separate envelope with a nice note and a couple of $20s and make sure it gets back to the chef.
posted by GamblingBlues at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation, I sent a nice bottle of tequila to the kitchen and I can almost never get out of the place without free food showing up now. I'm guessing that means it was appreciated. Cash would be the standard for the front of house folks, as everyone else has mentioned.
posted by Lame_username at 7:48 AM on February 11, 2015

Unless the restaurant's capacity is really tiny, an 8-top is not a world-shaking problem for any decent kitchen staff, nor is asking them to serve a cake you're bringing or expecting them to deal with big personalities. Tip nicely and don't overthink it.
posted by mkultra at 7:48 AM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Will a simple cash tip get to the kitchen?

Yes, particularly if you include them in the note as being among those you want to tip.

The note/cash route also helps you get around the issue of offending the in-laws.

Alcohol and/or food will almost certainly leave someone out. The sentiment may be appreciated, but nobody's trying to cut back on their cash intake.
posted by whoiam at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Having worked in restaurant kitchens, yes, a case of beer is standard. However, I have also worked with enough cooks who are on the wagon or just don't drink that a case of beer would do a decent percentage of the kitchen no good at all. The times the back of the house were tipped cash were the times I really appreciated.

If you trust the manager, put some cash in an envelope marked for the kitchen and have him/her take it back. Otherwise, take that envelope back to the kitchen yourself and give it to the boss back there to distribute. The waitstaff should be more than happy to take you back once you tell them you've got something for the kitchen. It would also be a nice gesture if you could make sure the bills can be distributed amongst the cooks without the chef needing to go to the register to change out a large bill.
posted by cooker girl at 8:25 AM on February 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Talk to the owner or manager to arrange a cash tip to the front and back of house without involving your inlaws.
posted by vrakatar at 8:28 AM on February 11, 2015

I worked in a bar/restaurants in the back room where people often held events. My regulars were awesome and I usually got really good tips, but I really liked the occasional extra/present. If it was more of a wedding shower or really cool birthday, sometimes we all got a goody bag. If they brought in a fancy cake we got to take the rest of the cake back to the kitchen. (Those guys loved cake!) Sometimes it was just homemade treats to keep us going. I was also really touched if people would pass us all a glass of champagne too for the toast, stuff like that really made my night. Its usually a small gesture but it made all of us happy.

If you really want to make a statement about how much you like all of them, I suggest what one of my regulars did, he would go through the kitchen and shake everyone's hands, shake our hands, bussboys, bar backs, everyone. The catch is at the holidays sometimes there was a $20 or sometimes even a $50 in that palm.
posted by stormygrey at 8:30 AM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'd be careful passing the staff champagne to toast with. What if they can't/don't want to drink but are afraid to offend you if they decline?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:47 PM on February 11, 2015

Best answer: Longtime waitstaff here. Agree that you should not tip with alcohol. It's just not fair to the sober and nondrinkers. Have one cash envelope with card for the kitchen, and another for the waitstaff tip. The chef can divvy up the kitchen envelope as he or she sees fit.

AS far as cutting and plating the cake, that's a nice service but not totally out of the ordinary. A lot of places just have a charge for cake service. You can tip on that charge just as if it were something you ordered. But you're not asking them to do anything way out of the ordinary.

And eight people is not that many even in a small place. You are actually less work as a party of eight than four parties of two or two parties of four would be. So don't feel like you are doing something beyond the pale. You're making them a lot of money that night by choosing them, and if your average tip is 20-35%, that makes you such an extreme outlier already that I'd say you are such good customers as to be black swans.

The red flag part for me was "personalities." I'm not sure what that means, but if you're going to be difficult, yes, please just give them a heads-up. I hope it doesn't mean people who are grabby or inappropriate. Maybe it just means awkward, or loud. In any case, if you think someone is going to be a problem, and you just can't not invite them, let the staff know, and if there's anything that will help it go more smoothly ("just keep Grandma's coffee hot," "let the guy in the black do all the wine tasting"), let them know that.
posted by Miko at 1:20 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Almost all restaurants will add an automatic gratuity for parties over a certain size--check to see what their policy is.

Drinking in kitchens is endemic, and most of us look forward to that end of shift pint like it is a holy beacon. With that said, there's also a lot of seriously problem drinking in kitchens, so probably best not to unless you know all the staff personally. Send envelopes of cash--ask the manager ahead of time how many people are working. And, I hate to say this, some people who work in restaurants are sketchy sketchy sketchbags, so probably the best way to do this is ask to go see the chef to thank them for their work, and hand over the kitchen tips then.

For your servers, if you don't want to offend your in-laws, show up a few minutes early and tip them before dinner. This can come across a bit weird, so say "I know you guys are going to be doing a lot of extra work, so I just wanted to get this in your hands ahead of time," or something similar.

Definitely best to let the manager know ahead of time about any dietary restrictions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:12 PM on February 11, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all these helpful responses. I think our plan will be two separate envelopes of cash with thank you cards. No alcohol.

By "difficult personalities" we mean this occasion is a big deal to some of the attendees and there are some tendencies towards minor drama or neediness. Nothing that will make a scene or get somebody 86ed.

I realize that an 8-top isn't a big deal, nor is cake cutting etc. We want to go above and beyond because this place is our go-to, reliable, going-out destination that has taken care of us well for years, and also because our parents who are footing the bill will likely not tip in the manner we do.

I welcome any other suggestions but I'll consider this resolved given the basic consensus of answers.

posted by werkzeuger at 2:30 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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