I received this letter from a former sushi chef. I thought it was worth reprinting.
I used to work as a sushi chef for about 7 years and I think I might be able to offer a little input, at the very least. on how I preferred to be tipped.
Generally, I prefer a customer to tip the waitstaff 15-20% and to tip the chefs around 10% at a standard bar. Most sushi bars do have their wait staff do a tipout (your mileage may vary) so the money gets to the chef no matter what you do. However, actively tipping the chef makes me remember who you are and the next time you come in I will do my best to take care of you – even if you don’t eat sushi. If it is a (sushi) bar you frequent and you genuinely appreciate the chef’’s work, hook them up with at least 15% and you WILL be taken care of. I had several regulars like this (who also went beyond to upwards of 40%) and I bent over backwards to make sure they were happy. It always paid off.
Sushi was never a cheap meal. The recent onset of quickie sushi restaurants has lead to an incredible rise of offensive behavior regarding tipping and behavior at sushi bars. Typically, a large portion of my customers rarely tip the sushi bar when they actually sat there. That’s basically a slap in the face to a chef. Especially if it’s a slow night and he/she takes the time to get to know the customer, recommend items, spruce up the presentation, etc. It saddens me that a substantial portion of so-called sushi goers in this country rant and rave about their favorite cuisine yet show no appreciation to the chef other than lip service. A customer telling me the food was “incredibly excellent” as my sad tip jar stays empty tells me that person is full of triple-A bullshit. I’m literally repulsed by people on a first name basis with a chef yet I never see them tip. Honestly I wish I could have told some of my customers to stay home, stop eating out, and come back in a few weeks when they could leave a decent tip. A sushi chef is basically waitstaff and cook in one. As such the best way to tip is to come with a full wallet and be ready to blow a fairly sized chunk of money tipping the staff and the chef.
Sorry about the rant, your blog brings out the fire in me.
Ex Sushi Chef
In Japan tipping may be considered rude, but dammit, when you’re eating Japanese food in the US – tip!