Ask the Waiter – Tipping at Sushi Places!

I received this letter from a former sushi chef. I thought it was worth reprinting.

Hello Waiter,

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.

Sincerely,

Ex Sushi Chef

In Japan tipping may be considered rude, but dammit, when you’re eating Japanese food in the US – tip!


Comments

Ask the Waiter – Tipping at Sushi Places! — 42 Comments

  1. actually in japan it is considered rude to tip the waiter, you are able to tip the chef but its an insult to receive anything less than 100 dollars

  2. I used to work at a sushi restaurant, a fairly nice one, and it seems like NO ONE knows to tip the sushi chefs! I made a habit of educating my friends when we went out to eat. I simply cannot abide shitty tippers.

  3. When we started going to our local Japanese restaurant / sushi bar, when you sat at the sushi bar, the sushi guys refused tips. Apparently accepting a tip was beneath their dignity. If this custom has changed, the word needs to get out. Don’t blame us non-tippers, we’re just not up to date.

  4. “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.”

    Well, I think this guy’s attitude is triple-A bullshit. I NEVER tip at a sushi bar. Hell, the food is already terribly over-priced. In fact, I don’t think I will back because of this individual’s lousy-ass attitude.

  5. Chiffonade, if the guest blogger ever looks back and sees your comment, I’m sure his response will be good riddance. Who wants a non-tipping asshole for a customer?

  6. I had no idea that it was even possible to single out the sushi chef for a tip. That is a different system than is used in US or European restaurants to the best of my knowledge.

  7. I’m sorry but WTF?
    Seriously, working as a server who has bussers that do nothing (unless they are literally called out) yet find motivation to follow you around the last 10 minutes of their shift begging to be tipped out, my view on tipping is very VERY narrow.

    If I go to a restaurant it’s auto 20 percent, even if I just sit on their patio for a bit and sip a beer.
    At the same time, this insane ‘tip everyone who exists around you on the planet’ mentality has got to go.
    No I’m not going to tip you for bagging my groceries. No I’m not going to tip you because you’re a coat check girl and expect it as I leave (even though I’ve not checked in a coat)
    Valets, sure. Hotel employees who carry your stuff to your room..absolutely.
    But going out to dinner and being expected to tip both the person who waited on you and the chef himself is..and I’m sorry to say it..bullshit.
    I’ll leave all the money for the server. They can divvy it as they see fit.

  8. Hyphen: I agree with you.

    I think that you should tip your waitstaff. The chef, whether he’s from El Salvador, Japan, or Jersey, is probably one of the higher paid people in the restaurant. I am going to tip once and if that 20% filters up to the chef then great. He probably makes way more money than I do anyway.

    I think of tipping my chef the same way as tipping my plumber or electrician. He’s a skilled professional who works with his hands who’s job is basically recession-proof. I can’t see any way possible that it would be necessary to tip the chef. Give me a break.

  9. Hi work in a sushi restaurant the tip is NOT included and we HAVE TO TIP OUT everybody
    5% to the sushi bar
    10 % to the bartender
    30 % to busser and runner

  10. chiff0nade, wtf? I’ve enjoyed reading your comments thus far, but if sushi is too expensive for you, stay home. Don’t use it as justification to stiff a working [wo]man. All waitstaff and chefs work hard and do not set the prices. Sushi is expensive because the principle ingredients are expensive. Don’t take out your frugal frustrations on people just doing their jobs.
    (or sit at a table, not the bar, so as to avoid the chef-tipping quandry)

  11. Sarah,

    if the chef deserves a tip, how does sitting at a table rather than the bar excuse your not tipping them. Let the wait staff tip out. If your bussers don’t do their work, then bitch at the manager not the patrons.
    Be a good waiter and karma will see you get what you deserve, unless you work in a place with bad feng shue, then you’ll probably get screwed.

  12. At the sushi restaurant I worked at, ALL servers had to tip out the sushi chefs 20%, even if their customers were nowhere near the sushi bar and received no direct service from the sushi chef. Therefore, if you chose to tip just th sushi chef, the server would get nothing for bringing you drinks/food from the kitchen, and still have to tip out 20% of her tips. Or if you tipped the sushi chef $20 and the server $10, she’d still have give $2 of her tip back to the sushi chef.

    So, I generally just tip the server, because in most sushi places in CA the server is required to tip out the sushi chef. I’d maybe slide the chef a couple bucks if he really wowed me, however, most sushi chefs I know or have worked with are assholes.

  13. chiff0nade, Sushi is expensive because it’s fucking fresh fish. If you want it to not kill you the cost of procuring it is high and waste is high since any unsold can’t just be reused. But you should know that the high prices you are paying go to the owner- not the employees. Tip you bastard!

  14. OK – I have worked as a busboy, waiter, and a bartender before. (I was a lousy waiter – but that is a different issue) However, having travelled around the world where tips range from being refused to the US where everyone is now are asking 20%, I have to ask why.

    I understand that the US restaurant wage laws suck. So waiters and waitresses need tips – OK. But why the increase from 10 to 15 to now 20%? Haven’t food prices gone up as well? Why should the tip be based on the meal price? Is there anymore work for the $30 entree than the $15 entree? Or the $8 exotic beer or the $4 Bud? Does the lunchtime staff work less than the dinner staff – the meals cost less.

    I will agree that some waitstaff puts more into their service than others, and they should be rewarded more – but not based on the price of what you ordered.

    I would prefer that the restaurants pay an honest wage and there be no tipping, but now it seems as one person put it, everyone has their hand out. It sounds more and more like graft rather than a tip. Don’t get me wrong, I tip my hair stylist well, and my waitstaff depending on the quality of service, however, the whole system is lousy. On the other hand no one tips me!

  15. i work in a restaurant with a “raw bar” and i have to tip out the cook who opens oysters and get the seafood platters ready 5%…when we first opened it was 10%, non negociable, the GM saying this cook is like a sushi chef and has to be tipped out…WHY?
    When the California Labor Code says that “gratuity is the sole property of the employee,or employees,to whom it was paid, given or left for”, are there any exceptions regarding employees cooking or preping in the dining room???? Why don’t we tip out the pastry chef then,or everybody in the kitchen???

    Can anybody explain that to me?

  16. Waterman, I agree. As I’ve commented before, I waited tables for many years before I graduated college. Since then, it seems to me that in certain parts of the country, everyone connected to the restaurant expects to be tipped. It’s ironic that so much is said about customer entitlement on this site.

    People aren’t being realistic if they think the customer should take care of all of these others with their hand out. One tip left at the table for what you think your service was worth. How you want to handle it internally is up to you. I’m sorry the system sucks.

  17. I am a sushi Server and I’ve done this for a long time at many restaurants, So please LISTEN. I’ve always worked in CA so this is all I can rreally say I know. But from north CA to south CA I’ve always had to tip the SUSHI CHEF out anywhere from 5%-35% of my over all tips at the end of my shift. So please always leave the server MINIMUM 15% for just serving you b/c thats what we have to claim we make and the US government taxes us on. But right now i tip my sushi chefs 35% of my tips!!! thats rediculous!!! and they have their own tip jar but I never get my own tips. half of my customers dont even eat sushi but i still have to tip them out. I recomend that you always tip the server completly and then drop a couple dollars in their tip jar. But I have had many customers just put a tip in the sushi chefs jar and not tip me. I think that is completly unfair. Last night I made a $30 tip on a $50 check and my customers were siting at a table and ordered all kitchen food except 3 orders of UNI and the sushi chef broke the yolk of the quail egg in the UNI and the customer complained but the chef didnt replace it (bad attitude). By the end of their meal they complemented my service and said that I’ve given them the best service they have ever recieved. Well at the end of the night i had to give my bad attitude sushi chef $10.50 of that tip on my service rendered. Things like that make it bad to work with sushi. SO JUST TIP YOUR SERVER AND LEAVE A FEW DOLLARS, $5-10 IN YOUR SUSHI CHEFS TIP JAR. THEY WILL STILL LIKE YOU. If a sushi chef is doing what they are doing for just tips then they arent sincere. The best sushi chefs really just enjoy quality company AND a decent tip at the end of the night.

  18. Thank you for the rundown on tipping manners for sitting at the sushi bar. I visit a Japanese restaurant in my city on occasion, but had only recently sat at the sushi bar instead of at a table. I was unsure of the tipping rules and assumed their tips came out of the waitresses’ tips (which I see some of it does),whom I tip well. I must have been pretty oblivious in not noticing a tip jar though. While never having waited myself, my boyfriend and some friends have, and I know it can be a sucky job at times. I hate to think I stiffed someone and appreciate this info!

  19. I think it’s insane that customers are increasingly expected to tip everyone. It’s a way for establishments to get out of paying REAL livable wages to staff.

    Okay-this sushi chef gets up to 40%? Insane. If I sit at the bar, then sure I’m going to tip the sushi chef or bartender or whomever. But why on earth would I give an additional 20% above and beyond what I jsut gave to the server?
    I’m sorry but as a customer I don’t care how the establishment shares their tips. i’m there to eat, I will tip the person who waits on me, period. The rest is up to the staff.

  20. What is the way to tip a sushi chef who doesn’t have a jar? It’s my understanding they don’t want to touch money while they’re working – so what’s the best way to hand them a tip? Any suggestions from former sushi chefs?

    I didn’t know how to get around this so I normally tip a lot extra for the server, assuming it gets to the chef. But we did want to give him something to say thank you and for the holidays – so I was going to bring him a nice bottle of wine or something for the new year.

    Thoughts?

  21. I work at a sushi cafe and when people sit at the bar I still have to serve them and even put up with some random bullspit sometimes… and I don’t get tipped at all.
    I’ll have tables of my own and the bar will be bitchin about something stupid like a straw, I’ll go get it and they’ll go on and on with more bullcrap and I’ll be wasting my time on them while my TABLE starts to get POed.

    I’m sorry but if you sit at the bar and are overly demanding, I’ll just up and give up on you. It’s not my money. You’d be stiffing the chef not me.

    but that’s just where I work.

    I try my best to make all my customers happy but there are a lot of impossible asses out there I just wanna throw poo at.

    It is nice to tip the chef 10% though. even if you sit at a table.
    It’s like their grade for how well they did on the food your eating.

    AND don’t ever eat something (all of it) and then try to get it comped! I hate ppl like that. I will get in their face about it. That is so so so TACKY!

  22. Wow, I have found my heaven reading some of these posts! lol! Being a server at a sushi restaurant, I’ve always wondered why I had to tip out the sushi chefs. I understand if the customers are sitting at the bar, then the sushi chefs will hand them their food and converse or what-not. But why would a server have to tip out to the sushi bar when the customer has had zero interaction with the sushi chef besides getting their food which wasn’t even served by the chef. Why don’t servers tip out the kitchen chefs? They also make food. What the hell?

    And does any other server who works at a sushi restaurant also notice that sushi chefs are always pissed off for some reason? Why is this? I’ve been asked if I ever wanted to learn to roll sushi but seeing their attitudes, I’m like, “HELL NO”. LOL

    • It’s becouse they work 10 hour days and trained there butts off and you work a 4 hour shift and didn’t train a day … Period

    • It’s becouse they work 10 hour days and trained there butts off and you work a 4 hour shift and didn’t train a day … Period

  23. I love reading your blog. You seem like a natural in sharing your experiences. I am starting my blog as well, do you think only natural writers can have something to share?

  24. Отличная идея, но надо бы подумать о количестве реламы на сайте. По-моему ее слишком много :) Хотя, конечно – это не мое дело :)

  25. A lot of sushi chefs work on a salary base.
    Quite a few work 10-15 hours a day! Some people don’t realize the amount of work involved in this type of job and the demands. I don’t know many sushi chefs that work less than 50 hours. I personally just worked 112.5 hours in a 10 day stretch with no days off. I’m not saying thats typical but if you are working 5-6 days a week 10-12 hours each shift you might be a little cranky too(they drink a lot of energy drinks). Most sushi bars have the waiters and chefs split the tips in one way or another. When a customer in front of the chef asks us where the waiter is
    and you are found in the back kitchen eating and not taking care of the customer, the sushi chef gets a lil peeved. The bottom line is that the service is what is tipped. I’ve had customers say that they don’t think the waiter deserves a tip but they don’t want to stiff us. If the person serving you is a waiter, sushi chef, or bartender I usually leave a minimum of 15%. 18% plus if the service I received was awesome. Every place that I have ever worked, sushi chefs usually give the waiters crap when they aren’t doing their jobs effectively. Why? Customers get upset, leave less tips, which means less to the chef also. When a customer personally gives me a tip I tend to notice them when they return and try to keep them happier. A lil extra here and there. My goal is to give the customer great food and great service. If they reward me/us with a tip for great service, then I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal. If I/we give bad service or food it is very shameful and no gratuity should be given. Every place is different but this is just my experiences.
    Props to all the good wait staff and sushi chefs out there.

  26. The first comment is bullshit. In Japan, there is simply no tradition of tipping. Some will take it as an insult, others will be confused. They are not paid less than normal like in the U.S. You do not tip anyone, ever. You also do not tip in China.

    I’m surprised no one has ever heard of tipping the chef before. I’ve sent tips back to the kitchen for the chef for exceptional meals (at places I frequent where I know the average).

  27. Ok. A little country here but bear with me. Would it be rude to ask the hostess or maybe even the server at the very beginning of the meal how the system works in their particular resturant? I mean just come out and ask ‘Miss/Sir, how are tips expected?’ or ‘miss/sir do you have to tip out to the chef, or are your tips yours and his/her tips theirs? Wouldn’t that work?

  28. It truly annoys me when people ask why they’re expected to tip 15-20% at restaurants. As the comments here have shown it’s customary for waitstaff to tip out bussers, runners, sushi chefs, dishwashers, and even in some restaurants hosts(esses) and coat check girls. If you leave $10, the waiter may only see 4 or 5 of that. If you’re only leaving 10% or $5, that drops down to maybe 3 bucks. I’m not saying to tip waitstaff lavishly or if they didn’t provide. But, if they did…tip appropriately.

  29. I am confused. Are you saying that if you go to a restaurant and get table service and order sushi, you are supposed to tip the wait staff 15-20% and then tip the sushi chefs 10% on top of that? Or is the 10% in lieu of the 15-20% for wait staff if you sit at the sushi bar? I’m all for being a good tipper, but the former seems a bit excessive…

  30. I work at a sushi bar as a server and the owner is the sushi chef and takes 50 % of our tips. Is this not bull shit?

  31. Got to agree with Emma on comment #21.

    After reading all the insiders’ bitching about how much is tipped out by whom, and how much work is really done by bussers, chefs, dish-washers and waiters, and customers sitting at a table instead of at the bar, and what country you’re in, and whether their government legislates a fair wage (where I live, they legislate a “minimum wage” for wait staff that’s less than other wage earners who don’t expect tips; bullshit, I say; minimum wage is good, and should apply to all).

    *sheesh* To quote Emma:

    “[...] as a customer I don’t care how the establishment shares their tips. i’m there to eat, I will tip the person who waits on me, period. The rest is up to the staff.”

    Hear, hear. As long as government screws things over by having special minimum wages for “tip jobs”, and imputing taxes based on fantasies of what servers might have earned… I’ll tip *the waiter* 15% +/- 5%, depending.

    But beyond that, don’t get the customer involved in ridiculous internal protocols. Government complicates things enough as it is.

    Cheers

  32. After reading this, I feel very fortunate to have two fantastic sushi bars to frequent. My husband and I not only tip the server for their service (we start at 25% and work down from there if the service sucks), but also tip the sushi chef. Usually 10-15%. We sit at the sushi bar in order to talk to the chef and get new ideas. A lot of times it’s also a cultural exchange. Personality may play a part in how much we decide to tip, but, fresh ingredients, exceptional preparation and presentation are the most deciding factors for us. All our sushi chefs remember us and we, more often than not, get a “something special” from the chef. I don’t know how the system works within the establishment where I’m dining, but I do want the sushi chef to know that his work (which is an art) is appreciated.

  33. I have to say most of these comments are BS. First off, when in America, do as the American’s do. I tip generously (20% to 25%) when I go out to a restaurant. I think it is silly to think people should tip 40% to the sushi chef and wait staff combined. If that is the appropriate standard, the sushi bar’s will end up with no business. It should not be the customer’s responsibility to slice and dice his tips among the wait staff, sushi chef, and everyone else. It should be the responsibility of the restaurant to design an equitable way to divvy up the tips. The idea of taking slaps at customers for “not knowing” how to slice and dice tips at a sushi bar when the practice of divvying up tips varies at each sushi bar is ridiculous on its face.

  34. I always sit at the bar;not the table at a sushi bar. A good sushi chef is not a cook: he is an artist, magician,and conversationalist. If you do not plan to tip the Chef, Just stay home. It is an insult TO NOT tip them, “but I don’t tip the cook at a restaurant!” you say? Funny, I cooked for years to pay my bills, and have gotten tipped for a great meal.And although plate presentation was first in my mind,A sushi chef goes far and above what I ever did In A Kitchen. So tip a little for the server,and let her give a cut to the support staff. But make it a point to give much more to the people doing the Majority of the work: THE SUSHI CHEF.

  35. as a server, we do a tip pool in our place. 30% of ALL restaurant tips go to the sushi chefs. 10% to the host and bus. 5% to the kitchen cooks. and then split what’s left among us servers hahah i feel like this is wrong. am i? we need help.

  36. Tipping the Sushi Chef is a general etiquette & traditional custom as you would Tip a Professional Bartender, which the Service Staff tip out as well. My opinion or If I’m in the situation where I need to watch my wallet is go eat Sushi at a Buffet if you can’t or don’t want to Tip the Sushi Chef! P.S., Hey Chiffonade “Piss Off”

  37. As a Japanese lady living in the States, I went to a Japanese restaurant solo, and was led to the Sushi bar because regular tables were all taken. Knowing that customers are expected to tip well when sitting at the sushi bar, I paid a 20% tip though I did not order anything directly from the chef. (Just had the Udon noodles/tempura set, and a special-order seaweed salad, which were all brought by a waitress.) My husband, who is an American, usually pays a 17.5% tip. The bright side was that I found that the senior chef was also a Japanese, and enjoyed talking with him.

    Do servers at Japanese restaurants in the States anticipate higher tips from the customers who had no choice than sitting at the Sushi bar?

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