Amuse My Bouche

amusemybouche1 In culinary terms, the amuse bouche refers to the tiny bite-sized morsel that precedes the first course, an introduction of the chef and preview of the meal to come. Amuse My Bouche refers to the food column that you find here on Providence Daily Dose, promising local restaurant reviews, Providence food&bev industry gossip, and general sass on the subject of eating & drinking.

20+ is the new 18

Before I even begin to address the subject of food, there’s something I need to clear up. Before I take you on a tour of my most favorite and most disappointing meals in Rhode Island, before I give you any hints on where to take your parents or third dates out to dinner, before I even let you in on my tried-and-true dinner party or potluck themes and recipes, I’m going to give you some useful insight into the culinary universe:

Psst… 20+ is the new 18.

Meaning over 20% is the new 18%. This is the new standard for the tip that you leave your server. When you take the leap and invest in a meal out of the house, you should be prepared to spend 20% of whatever your bill adds up to, including alcohol.

I don’t mean to pass judgment. It only feels fair that as a former restaurant server who claims to have some authority on the subject of food, I stand in solidarity with a class of underappreciated restaurant employees, who are frequently made the scapegoat for a bad experience that is so often the result of factors outside of the server’s hands.

20+ is the new 18, and if you disagree with me, you’ve probably never been a server. If you disagree with me, I suggest you run down to any restaurant that will hire your inexperienced behind, because you are about to be schooled.

So here’s the deal:

Tipped employees are paid well below minimum wage, anywhere from $2.13 to $4.25 in my experience. Usually, when servers get a paycheck from their employers, most or all of their wages make up for what they are taxed. A server’s livelihood is entirely dependent upon tips. When you leave your tip, you have the power to determine whether or not the server receives a living wage. So regardless of whether the server was on-point or frazzled and forgetful, your respectful tip is a matter of justice.

In most cases, when you tip a server, the tip goes not only to the server, but also to the busser that cleared your plates, the bartender that poured your beer or shook that cocktail, and occasionally the host or food runner. As much as 25% of a server’s take home might be going to what’s called the “tip out” to their fellow service employees. Keep this in mind as you calculate your contribution.

It’s equally important to tip a counter service employee as it is to tip a table service employee. The standards are fuzzier here, because generally these employees make around or maybe above the minimum wage. Still, $8 an hour does not a living wage make, and again tips are a part of the employee’s livelihood. If there is a tip jar at the coffee shop or your favorite quick lunch spot, put something in it. Especially if your order took more than a few moments to make.

To be fair, you as a customer deserve to have a pleasant experience. If you have a problem with the service, calmly ask the server if you can speak to a manager and then respectfully make your complaint. It’s possible that the restaurant is understaffed for the evening because someone called out sick, or that there’s a new cook who is just learning the ropes, or that management is just incompetent. It’s also possible that your server sucks or is a total jerk. Still, that person deserves their fair pay, and a bad tip, or even worse, a stiff, will only piss off the server and won’t do anything to fix what the problem was.

The restaurant industry in general, from chef to line cook to dish washer to server to bartender, boasts some of the most difficult and draining careers you’ll find. Working in the biz was the most difficult job I’ve ever had. Servers enjoy flexibility, pretty quick cash, and if they find the right restaurant, fair to excellent pay. Still, you’d be surprised how terrible some customers treat servers. The past few years have ushered in a fervor towards restaurants, complete with celebrity chefs and reality TV cooking shows, so now anyone with enough money to enjoy a good meal fashions herself an expert, a ‘foodie’. Chefs and cooks are now treated like stars, they are the subjects of best-selling books and widespread applause. I worry that with all of this excitement, the front of house employees have missed out on the respect they deserve. Servers are professionals, too, and are the ambassadors to whatever your experience will be.

I’ve hung up my apron and now experience restaurants on the other side of the table, but I look upon the industry and its employees with reverence. I know that a truly great meal can be transcendent, and that a great staff that is respected and paid well is the only team that can deliver the meal I’m looking for. As a customer, I have little say in how the restaurant is run, yet I am in complete control of how much the server is paid. It’s a strange power, but one we should use respectfully.

Next week, I’ll actually start writing about food. In the meantime, get thee to New Japan on Washington Street for the best sushi in Providence. It closes at the end of the month…

4 thoughts on “Amuse My Bouche”

  1. Hey Ms. Ramsey,

    As a former server, I couldn’t agree more. It might be a better world if most people took the opportunity to be a waitress/waiter for just a little while. (the same goes for riding the city bus!) They’d gain a whole new perspective.
    I look forward to reading your well-written column frequently.

  2. thanks you!!! lots of non-restaurant people don’t realize that when you stiff the server, you also punish the busser, runner, bartender, and host. looking forward to more articles.

  3. Good stuff Jessica, thanks. I have to go with Sakura too, though. But I haven’t been to New Japan in a few years, so…

  4. I’m really excited about this column – looks like it’ll be great! Can’t wait to see what you write about next week.

    I do have to disagree with your claim that New Japan has the best sushi in Providence though. Sakura is way better, and cheaper (I admit the downside is their usually incredibly-rushed service). But their eggplant sushi, yam sushi, yum. And that fried eggplant appetizer too, I’m getting hungry.

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