My Response: 25 Things Chefs Never Tell You

Like I would pass up an opportunity to post this picture

I am trying to fight through the worst bout of writer’s block I have had since I started writing this blog.  I started at least three different posts yesterday that ended up in the recycle bin.  In my last post I promised to get back to some server related posts, but my brain has forced me to break that promise.  In the meantime I have been holding this one back for just such an occasion.

An article recently came to my attention that I am surprised none of my fellow bloggers jumped on.  The Food Network recently did a survey of chefs around the country.  They wrote up the results in an article titled “25 Things Chefs Never Tell You.”  For the most part I think it was a balanced and informative article.  There are probably a number of points that most diners are not aware of.  I recommend the article for those of you who have not put in time working in a restaurant.

As a server though, I think there are a couple points where they draw the wrong conclusion.  The author chooses attention-grabbing wording over accuracy in a number of places.  In this effort to keep the reader’s interest the author, in my opinion, completely misrepresents the actual findings of the survey.  I keep referring to “the author” as such because no name is attached to the article.  After reading this post, you will probably understand why.

A few excerpts that got my attention:

“Just half the chefs surveyed graduated from a cooking school. The rest got their training the old-fashioned way, by working their way up through the kitchen ranks.”

I was under the impression that Chef was a professional title.  Nurses don’t become Doctors by working their way through the hospital ranks.  I know many Chefs who find this infuriating.

“Your bread basket might be recycled. Three chefs admitted that uneaten bread from one basket goes right into another one.”

Three Chefs said it?  Out of how many?  Let me assure you that this is not common enough to even make an issue of,  Still it is better than the next gem.

“The five-second rule actually applies. A quarter of the chefs surveyed said they’d pick up food that dropped on the floor and cook it.”

That means that 75% of the chefs surveyed would not.  When I was in school a rule that was correct only one out of four times was an invalid rule that did not apply.  This is like a surgeon doing a procedure that has a 25% chance of death telling you that you are going to die.

“Waiters take home an average of $662 a week, often tax free.”

Did you get this number from Tom Emmer? The actual number nationwide is $20,380 per year or roughly $400 a week.  Only off by 40%.  The tax-free part is beyond absurd.  I am not sure where the author got that side note, but it is completely inaccurate.  The four figure check I write to Uncle Sam every year tells me differently.

“Menu “specials” are often experimental dishes. Contrary to popular belief — that specials are just a chef’s way of using up old ingredients — most chefs said they use specials to try out new ideas or serve seasonal ingredients. Only five chefs admitted that they try to empty out the fridge with their nightly specials.”

That is 40% more than followed the recycled bread rule which was conveyed as fact.  In reality Chef’s specials are based upon the ability to receive a premium product at a discounted price that allows for maximum mark up.  It is about profit,  Also, if only five chefs admitted to using specials to burn out inventory, a whole lot of chefs noses just got longer.

“An astounding 90% of chefs said it’s fair to penalize bad waiters with a smaller tip.”

An even more astounding 100% of servers surveyed by me just now wish they could penalize chefs when they screw up orders, take forever to get a dish out of the kitchen, or run a crappy high profit special.

“Most chefs said that a bottle on their wine list costs 2½ times what the same one would cost in a wine store.”

That would be a 40% wine cost.  I think that is actually a little low.  It is also nearly double what chefs would like to keep their food costs at.

Check out the full article for more insights like these.  The whole article convinced me more than ever that the Food Channel is a “smart mark” rather than an insider.  While I think this article was a blend of good and bad information, I am curious what everyone else thinks.  Any waiters upset by this?  Anyone outside the industry learn something new?  As always the comment section is open for your thoughts.

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16 comments on “My Response: 25 Things Chefs Never Tell You

  1. nativenapkin on said:

    Did they actually interview any Chefs for this bit of drivel or a bunch of 20-something line cooks? This was nothing but a fluff piece attempting to perpetuate stereotypes.

    “The appropriate tip is 20%…
    That’s what chefs leave when they eat out, and it’s the amount they think is fair.”

    When did this start happening? I’ll tell you when: never. Most “chef’s” (read: line cooks) will sit visit a restaurant, make it known they are in the biz, maybe drop your Chef’s or Sous’ name, and get beau coup extras thrown at them all night; and then tip for shit, even on the discounted amount. Every time. It’s their way of leveling the playing field with regards to their hourly wage vs. a waiters (hourly plus the tips). Executive Chefs that have dined in my station and gotten full comps leave $0. Bupkis. Pains me greatly to admit it, but I know because I did the same things when I was BOH.

    And while I agree with you that Chef is a professional title, one does not become a Chef simply from a single course of study at an educational institution. To me, it’s a title of respect that is used a bit too freely. A Chef is someone who has forgotten more about food and cooking than I’ll ever learn; someone who has instinctive talent, a palate beyond belief for flavor and texture and presentation; and has risen beyond the simple mechanics of the job. Simply graduating from a culinary course of study, no matter how intense, doesn’t make one a Chef any more than being able to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano makes one a musician…

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I appreciate that. I was worried I was the only person who thought that too. Line cooks tip poorly, but I do pretty well off actual Chefs. I work in a restaurant where we are trained to refer to every cook in the kitchen as “chef.” I can see where a trained and certified chef would be upset.

  2. omg dropping stuff on the floor and reusing bread!? ok ive worked in a few (not a ton) of restraunts and i have NEVER seen or heard of these practices taking place. ick! im kinda grossed out that 1/4 of the cooks say this happens. does that mean that i have a 1 in 4 chance of getting stuff thats been dropped on the floor when i go out to eat. no thanks im sticking to restaurants where i can SEE my food being made. not that i will necessarily actually watch it being made but i like that i could if i wanted to.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      It means that you have a 1/4 chance of having your food cooked by someone who under some circumstances would consider it. They cook hundreds of meals everyday. Your chances are pretty minute and no bigger than they were before you read the article.

  3. yellowcat on said:

    The other night a woman gave her uneaten baked potato back to me. She said, “You have one extra.” I gave her the “Um…WHAT?!” look so she explained, “I didn’t eat it so now the kitchen has an extra baked potato they can serve.”

    WHAT?! I told her all uneaten food goes in the trash and she was horribly offended. Maybe she was one of the chefs who recycle the bread basket.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I don’t get this either. I managed a buffet style restaurant and people got highly offended that we did not donate the leftovers to charity. There is really no practical way to get and keep the food out of the danger zone overnight to then transport it to a shelter. It would be a logistical nightmare and one that would drive up the cost of the food we sold.

  4. yellowcat on said:

    Oh and HAHAHAHAHA to the $662 a week TAX FREE. My money is never tax free.

  5. skippymom on said:

    I almost choked on my wheaties. TAX FREE? Are they kidding? Well obviously they have never seen a waiter’s paycheck then.

    I have never [and would never] worked in a restaurant that adhered to the 5 second rule or the reuse of bread. That is so wrong as to be ridiculous.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      Once it hits the table it is inedible in my mind. I think everyone has worked with the scavenger server or busser who sees it differently. One server I worked with would happily eat leftovers from attractive female guests. The most appropriately censored translation of his reasoning that I can come up with is that for those guests he would do far less sanitary things than eat their leftovers.

  6. teleburst on said:

    As to the wine cost issue, that might be about right (but I’m not really sure). I think that you’re confusing *restaurant* wine cost with liquor store shelf cost when you answer this, ““Most chefs said that a bottle on their wine list costs 2½ times what the same one would cost in a wine store.” with “That would be a 40% wine cost. I think that is actually a little low. It is also nearly double what chefs would like to keep their food costs at” I know that most restaurants cost the majority of their wine at roughly 3- 4 times cost. That *could* end up being around 2 1/2 times shelf cost depending on the retail store’s own cost/markup structure.

    The funny thing is, when “civilians” complain about wine markup, they don’t realize that, normally, the more expensive the wine, the better bargain they’re getting. Expensive bottles ($50+ in more modest restaurants and $100+ in fancier restaurants with big wine lists) are usually only marked up 2 – 2 1/2 times cost whereas that cheap white zinfandel is usually marked up 4 times.

    Just thought I’d mention that.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I had a guest try to tell me that our markup was too high so she was just going to have a $8 glass of White Zin. I managed to avoid laughing until I escaped the table.

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