Category Archives: Restaurants

It’s January, Tip Generously

Near the end of December, as I skated toward NYE, I realized my digestive system, liver and wallet needed a break. So, on December 30th, I hastily declared I would do the Whole 30 January challenge. It checked all the boxes of what I needed to recover from an over abundant holiday season.

Eat whole foods? Check.

Save money and cook at home more? Check.

Give my liver a alcohol break for a month? Check.

Refocus on health and fitness? Check.

Honestly, I had no idea what “being on Whole 30” actually meant, but on December 30th I jumped on the wagon. Starting January 1, I loaded my shopping cart with tons of expensive, compliant ingredients that were justified by the fact I wouldn’t be spending money eating out or ordering pricey drinks or even making trips to the liquor store. It’s true, I made some lovely meals on this plan and the groceries were certainly less than the appetizer plus entree plus dessert plus two or three drinks per person night out.

And when I did eat out, the stunningly cheap bills at the end of a meal sans alcoholic drinks was refreshing. It was also surprising. Dang, how the hell does a meal with drinks cost more than 2x than this? It was eye-opening.

While all this was good for my wallet, January is a very tough month for servers at restaurants. Newsflash, EVERYONE is on a resolution diet. Even if you are eating out less to simply make up for overspending during the holidays, you are on a January diet. That means there are way fewer people eating out right now and this who are, are eating and drinking less.

Yes, restaurants know this lull is coming and they plan accordingly. They slim down food orders and adjust menus for a more health conscious crowd, but one of their big ticket items is labor. So, they cut shifts and they send staff home early. That’s the business.

For people who rely on tips to make ends meet, that makes January really hard. Sure, they made extra money during the holidays when we were all indulging. Sure, they too can plan for a lull in January by saving those extras. Sure, they could have skipped indulging in the holidays themselves, but before we start admonishing and judging their choices, let’s be realistic.

The Federal Minimum Wage for tipped workers is $2.13. It has been $2.13 for TWENTY-SEVEN years now. It was $2.13 when I waited tables in two restaurants while trying to pay for college. As I was trying to start a new semester and pay my upcoming tuition bill, I watched my wages dwindle in January.

Of course, that was my experience as a college student, but let’s be realistic. There are more than 3 million people according to the US government, more than 4.3 million according to the Economic Policy Institute. working for tips in the US. According the EPI, “Tipped workers are predominantly women (66.6 percent) and disproportionately young; however, the majority are at least 25, and over one in four are at least 40 years of age.” That means, many Americans are working for tips as a long term profession.

I have great deal if respect professional servers. To make a living putting up with every variety and flavor of asshole you can imagine, is impressive and commendable. For any of you who have had the pleasure of dining at a location who uses professional servers with years of experience, you know why it is important to have professional servers. They make a good dining experience great and we all know no matter how good the food is, if the service sucks, it takes it all down.

Professional servers are important. Period. Full Stop.

Furthermore, as an Obama-era regulation gets rolled back, tipped workers may have to give up part if their earnings to other non-tipped employees who make more than $2.13 per hour. That is not saying those other employees are making a living wage. And yes, I know tipped employees can make good money on tips; enough money to push them above the regular minimum wage threshold other staff may be getting. But, let’s not make this a zero sum game.

All these workers should make a living wage. Period. Full Stop.

So, until we move beyond this archaic system of tipping rather than just paying a liveable wage, this is the system we have. This blog post is certainly not going to solve that.

So, this is where we are. It is January. Tipped workers still make $2.13 per hour, as they have since before I earned a high school diploma, a bachelors, a masters, worked in industry for 12 years, earned another masters and started this blog. They still have to pay their bills in January when everyone is dieting, cooking at home, spending less money and drinking less. They have to do this on fewer shifts while diners order less than half the food and drinks they did just a month ago.

I already tip generously. So, let’s revise that title.

It is January, tip even more generously. Tip as if you ordered appetizers, desserts drinks and all. Period. Full Stop.

Happy cooking and happy tipping!

The Fount of Waters: Lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe

Chefs going local might seem like a new trend, but its roots lie in 1971 when a little restaurant in Berkeley California called Chez Panisse opened. Alice Waters, the founder and executive chef at Chez Panisse, is the mother of the local food movement. Her menus and cookbooks follow the philosophy of simple cooking using great ingredients. A holiday trip to the bay area afforded me the opportunity to visit Chez Panisse Cafe. I was eager to see, taste and experience first-hand where the local food movement began and how Waters’ philosophy stood the test of time.

True to her philosophy, lunch was magnificent. Its elegant simplicity highlighted the ingredients. Freshness played a starring role. Perhaps just as significantly as the food, the experience was punctuated by the flawless service and comfortable dining room.

Postcard from Chez Panisse Cafe

Reservations are not only recommended, they are required. Tables may be reserved one calendar month ahead of time. Since I was making my flight arrangements less than a month before my holiday trip to California, I was not too hopeful. But, with some flexibility and patience, I scored a late afternoon lunch for two the day before my departure. Judging by full dining room and the number of hopefuls turned away by the host, it was obvious there was no time of day that was too late for lunch at Chez Panisse.

Being an overly punctual type, we were naturally early, which, of course, meant a pre-lunch libation. The wine list was perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the experience. No, it was not a bad list. It was an expert selection of interesting wines and my Grüner Veltliner was delightfully crisp and tart. However, there was only a single California wine. As my first introduction to the Cafe, offerings of French, German and Italian wines seemed  in direct opposition to Waters commitment to local ingredients.

Despite the non-local wine selection, the lunch menu outlined array of local vegetable and meats. Looking for a light lunch after an over-indulgent holiday, I opted for a chicory salad  first course and pappardelle with wild mushroom ragù main while my husband went with a pork tenderloin, sausage and greens main. For dessert, we decided to share an apple galette with house made ice cream and a chocolate souffle.

The chicory was the star of the salad. It was crisp. It was fresh. It was lightly dressed in a green goddess dressing that balanced the chicory’s bitterness. The handmade pappardelle was perfectly al dente and dressed with wild mushroom ragu. The mushrooms were so earthy it seemed like they might have been foraged that morning. While the sausage was slightly dry, the pork tenderloin was moist and perfectly cooked – that is to say, it was just slightly pink and juicy. And the greens were still crisp and not over-stewed.

The desserts were the perfect end to the meal. They were not too sweet. Not too heavy. Not too large. The galette crust was unbelievably thin and topped with thinly sliced apples with a lightly sweetened apple jelly-like filling. The ice cream was fluffy, yet rich. Bitter sweet chocolate was punctuated by a light and creamy sauce. This is how dessert is done.

While the food itself was magnificent, it would be negligent not to mention the atmosphere. The dining room was cozy, but not overly crowded. There was room to breathe. The service was exquisite. Attentive, but not intrusive. Friendly, but not artificial. Responsive, but not hurried. The pause between courses gave enough time to reflect, but not so much to linger into awkwardness. Too often a great meal is shadowed by dining room antics. Instead, Chez Panisse’s front of the house was the perfect pair to a great meal.

Dining at Chez Panisse was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. I wanted to see the place where a group of activist cooks came together to start a food movement around supporting local producers and sustainability principles. It was certainly more elegant than its history suggests which, perhaps, reinforces the notion that local, sustainable, organic food is a luxury afforded to those that can afford it. Of course, Chez Panisse makes no promise to dispel that notion, but rather its promises a delicious meal of great ingredients, prepared simply. And that, it did live up to.