What Really Happens When You Send 'Compliments' To The Chef

When you enjoy great service at a restaurant, it's easy to thank your server by leaving a generous tip. Thanking the kitchen staff for a great meal, however, is more of a gray area. Most people tell a server to send their "compliments to the chef," but what does that even mean? In movies like "Ratatouille," it's a pivotal moment in the chef's life — but in reality, according to a Reddit thread at least, sometimes it can be a server yelling the message to a teenager who's working the line, if they get the memo at all.

Many food and beverage workers chimed in on the thread with their opinions, as well as customers who had genuine questions about the best way to show appreciation for the kitchen staff. While some commented that staff appreciates the kind words, others seemed to wish diners would do a little more — like buy the kitchen a round of drinks instead or leave them a separate tip. 

One former chef said, "I absolutely love it when a guest wants to pop their head back and thank the kitchen for 'a delicious meal.' As a chef (still weird to call myself that, I was a line cook/sous for the last 18 years), I can't accept any tips, but damn, does it feel awesome to have a guest hand me money for good food, which I get to hand right back to one of my cooks."

Another user commented that the chef at their restaurant refused to speak to a customer that wanted to thank him because he knew they would only give kind words and no money to back up the compliment. In examples like these, the gray area of how to show appreciation for the kitchen can cause confusion for the guest and also creates conflict between the front of house and back of house staff. One commenter based overseas likened it back to the pitfalls of the U.S. employment system, and said, "Here in Germany the cooks always get a share of tips. It's half their work after all."

New trends are emerging for how to show kitchen staff appreciation

At times like these, the issue of how to show appreciation for kitchen staff is even more paramount. It's no secret that there are currently major staffing shortages in restaurants. According to Time, a recent survey from the National Restaurant Association revealed that 72% of operators rated recruitment and retention of workforce as their top challenge. These staffing shortages have created even harsher working conditions in an industry that already had struggled pre-pandemic.

A survey by One Fair Wage conducted from October 2020 through May 2021 also revealed that 53% of food service workers considered leaving their job, with 76% of them citing low wages and tips as a main rationale behind the decision. To compensate for these conditions, especially in the back of the house, a new trend in restaurants is now coming forth that adds "buying a round for the kitchen" as a menu item or creating a separate tip section for the kitchen staff.

According to WCCB Charlotte, The 5th Street Group (a restaurant group with locations in Charleston, Charlotte, and Nashville) has added a separate line for tipping the kitchen on all of their receipts. In the first 30 days of the program, it was said that more than $100,000 has gone directly to the back of house staff.

Sending compliments to the chef was probably considered good etiquette before the huge staffing crisis, but with the current conditions at restaurants, buying the kitchen drinks or leaving a separate tip is more appropriate — and goes a long way to show appreciation.