Good morning, Tom. I found Tuesday's Post story on no-tipping policies quite interesting. When my daughters were young, I tried to show them, by example, that gratitude for service, coupled with tipping beyond the minimum, is right and appropriate. I had no idea whether the person filling my water glass today would, in time, be my doctor, lawyer or my kids' teacher. It's just simple human decency to provide a gratuity, but also to look her or him in the eye and say "thank you." If a service charge equitably takes care of an entire restaurant staff who have cared for me, why should I not be for it? I'm interested in understanding other perspectives and how you see the question. Thank you in advance.
I'm in favor of higher wages for waiters and restaurants that tack on "administrative fees" a la Dirt Candy in New York. Servers are among the few workers who rely solely on tips in this country; the surcharge also rewards the kitchen staff. At the same time, I realize it's really hard to change consumer behavior. Ultimately, restaurants that hope to eliminate tipping will have to increase menu prices, which are now kept artificially low, as Maura's story points out, to remain competitive.
Thoughts from chatters?
Good morning everyone. Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown must have anticipated today's fine spring weather. The French bistro just opened its 60-seat patio, which doubles the size of the place. Seating is first come, first served.
Sad news out of Chicago this morning, where the innovative chef Homaro Cantu has died, apparently by his own hand. Cantu won acclaim for his cooking at Moto, which has received a Michelin star every year since 2012, and for his efforts to eradicate hunger.
Lots to discuss today. Tell me what's on your mind.
Hi Tom. I haven't heard much about Volt lately and with the Voltaggio brothers expanding, I was wondering if you had been recently. Is it still worth the money and trip to Frederick for a special meal?
Tom, There is no doubt that Washington DC is one of the top 10 restaurant cities in the country. But you already review the highlights for us every week. So, please visit 10 cities other than DC on your travels. But, when you rank them, include DC in the rankings, which will then be a Top 11 Restaurant Cities list. Thanks.
Thanks for the feedback in response to my ongoing feature rating America's best food cities. Remember, I'm not just writing for the local market, but a national audience. Also, Washington doesn't automatically go on the list just because it happens to be where I live and write. Stay tuned!
Hi Tom, we have a 6-month old and haven't been out to eat since she's arrived. My mom is in town in a few weeks and thus we have the opportunity to venture out. But we want to stick fairly close to home (College Park) just in case. What's your best pick for a restaurant near the Georgia Ave metro station (or barring that, Columbia Ave?). Love your chats, we've been living vicariously through them and your weekly reviews for awhile now. Thanks!
My niece and her teenage children, ages 13 and 15 are coming to town next week and staying in Penn Quarter. Do you have any suggestions for restaurants that would appeal to teens in that area? They are open, but not too daring regarding their tastes in food.
I am sure this is something you have addressed before but I would appreciate a revisit. What is the appropriate way to reward a sommelier when they have steered you in a wonderful direction providing education and insight? Thanks!
In addition to a tip on the check you mean? To reward extra effort, I think a $10 or $20 bill slipped into a handshake on the way out is a nice touch.
Ideas for Sunday brunch for large group (departing visitors from out of town)? Dupont or 14th Street particularly good. I'm concerned that Tabard Inn might not be available, also their brunch buffet offerings seem a bit limiting. Early is better than later; restaurant seating would be ok in a pinch.
Tabard Inn is a shadow of its once-delicious self. Don't bother with the restaurant. Better in all ways: the Spanish-spirited Boqueria in Dupont Circle, which has a fun private dining area; the airy Roofers Union in Adams Morgan; or Eatonville for its southern cooking on 14th St.
I can see why the poster interpreted interview with Chef O’Connell the way they did. But, from personal experience, I agree with your assessment, Tom, that the poster should give the Inn at Little Washington a chance. I have a life threatening allergy to both peanuts and nuts. The staff and Chef O’Connell took my allergy seriously, put me at ease, and I had an amazing experience as a result. I also recently had an amazing experience at Rose’s Luxury. Not only was the food as good as everyone has been raving about, they went over and above to accommodate my allergy. They annotated a menu for me that identified each menu item that contained peanuts or nuts and those that had the potential for cross contamination. (The smiley and frowny faces were a nice touch.) While not expected, it these efforts are greatly appreciated. While I can certainly commiserate with the poster about times that my allergy was not taken seriously (or at least I perceived it that way), my experiences with the vast majority of restaurants in the DC metro area have been good. I have had many servers that didn’t think something was an issue, but still noted it for the kitchen and checked with them. Then, they returned to the table to let me know everything was ok. For those that returned, thank you! That little effort transforms what can be a scary experience into a pleasant one.
A round of applause, please, for conscientious restaurants.
Weird experience at Soi 38 and want your advice. Made a rez for dinner and met 2 friends. Just as I walked in the power went out. My girlfriend had already ordered/paid for a wine @ the bar. While we waited for our friend and to see if the power would come back on (they said maybe 20 mins?), I ordered a glass of wine. After 30 minutes and no power, we decided to have dinner elsewhere. I offered my credit card to pay for the glass, but the computers were out, and I didnt have any cash on me. There was an awkward 5 minutes where the servers & manager discussed what to do with my bill. I had wrongly assumed at this point that they would just comp my wine because of the inconvenience, and to encourage me to come back another time to finally try their food (which I hear is delicious!) But instead they argued with me and insisted on writing my credit card number down. (As of this morning, im not sure if they ended up charging me CC.) Tom, what do you think the restaurant should have done? Am i being outrageous thinking I deserved a free glass of wine? Im not one of those people that trolls for free things, but I've also worked in hospitality and know you dont want to alienate customers.
You don't strike me as anyone trolling for free food. As a goodwill gesture, Soi 38 should have comped your wine, since you were inconvenienced twice: once when the power went out and again when your credit card couldn't be processed. Hey, you were *trying* to pay, right? That the staff argued with you leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Tom - have you been to Beefsteak yet? I'm a big fan of his, but found this venture uninspiring and run off the mill. Had steamed vegetables that I could have cooked at home and appear to be bought at a Giant or Safeway canned veggies section. I hope DC judges by the quality of the final product, not making this a success based off of Jose Andres' name.
Uninspiring? I was tickled to see all the fresh vegetables on display and pleased by what I got, a combination called Frida Kale. The dish is composed from blanched kale and corn mounded on rice and completed with good black beans, spicy tomato sauce, corn nuts for crunch and cranberries for punch: fast food that's healthful, but also delicious. I look forward to more Beefsteaks in town.
I enjoyed the story on tipping as well but as I restaurant owner I don't see a way out of the current tipping culture. Take a look at Yelp reviews and a constant complaint of many restaurants is being 'over-priced'. American diners need to acknowledge that unlike, say, the Japanese, we are often not willing to pay the full cost of quality food and service. I looked up Yelp reviews for the restaurant featured in the story that did the 20% administrative fee and there were quite a few complaints about that as well.
Well, the policy is fairly new. It will take time for the notion of not tipping (because service is included in the price of admission) to catch on. I would hope not too much attention is paid to what unfolds on Yelp.
1) Top 10 cities includes Seattle? 2) Tipping: I'd rather pay more and not mess with math at the end of the meal.
1) Maybe. Maybe not! Time will tell.
2) A diner after my own heart.
My husband and I have 6 months to eat at all the 'fancier' restaurants in DC we've been meaning to go to before we have our first child and switch restaurant scenes. I'm not the most adventurous eater when it comes to different animals(i.e. I only eat chickens, pigs, and cows) and often have a hard time finding enough options at some of the higher end places. Location-wise we prefer downtown DC/14th St/Arlington/Alexandria. In the past we've really enjoyed Equinox and Proof. Any suggestions for the top 5-10 we should try to get to?
Happy to oblige.
Fourteenth St: Le Diplomate, for French bistro cooking in a buzzy dining room
Arlington: SER, the new Spanish restaurant that lives up to the letters in its name, short-hand for "Simple," "Easy" "Real."
Alexandria: Vermilion, probably one of the better mid-tier spots in Old Town
I would love to see the end of tipping (and the advent of a solid base wage for restaurant workers). I hate feeling like I'm giving a job evaluation at the end of every meal -- I don't want to stiff a terrible server, because we all have off days, and the rest of the staff will suffer; and I don't know how much to inflate the tip for great service either. You want to leave enough not to look cheap, but maybe 20% is seen as low at this or that restaurant. And when you're in DC, with its 10% tax, it's all screwed up because the price is $X but not really, it's actually an extra 30% (or more) on top of that. (Not to mention the built-in incentive to upsell bottled water, pricier wines -- most servers don't seem to do it, but who could blame them if they did?) It's just a much more pleasant experience, all around, to dine in a foreign country where servers are compensated as professionals, the prices are really the prices (taxes included too!), and a small tip is a nice gesture of appreciation rather than a calculation of one's professional worth.
What a great post. What a smart audience.
I travel around a decent amount and if I had to choose 10 cities I'd pick: NYC Charleston New Orleans Austin Portland San Fransisco Chicago Nashville Phoenix Kansas City (I haven't been but always hear about the bbq) Am I close to your list?
Not a question, just a thanks for all you do! I don't actually eat out that regularly, but I love to use my parents' visits as a chance to try out new places. I might not have grandchildren to offer them, but they are always delighted by the fun places I take them to dine in DC. Last evening we had an amazing meal at Soi 38, which I surely wouldn't have known about without your recommendation. Tonight, we're on to Red Hen. I had already booked the reservation, which delighted my mother when she arrived in town, carrying a Travel + Leisure article about dining in DC, in which that's the first place mentioned. I'm already planning on Iron Gate when they visit for my birthday later this summer! Thanks for all of your reviews and the chats!
We want to get really dressed up to go out to dinner for a special occasion (my 17 year old daughter even wants to wear a gown). Is there a place in the greater DC area where we can wear our best duds and not run into a diner with jeans?
The Japanese State Dinner, maybe?
Seriously, I think you'd blend in best at a restaurant such as Marcel's in the West End or the Inn at Little Washington in the other Washington, where I have yet to see anyone in jeans -- but wouldn't be surprised if I did. Formal attire is rare anymore, even in cities like New York and Paris.
Hi Tom, my husband and I traveled to Croatia and Slovenia a few years and really enjoyed the Balkan food, particularly Ćevapčići. Anywhere in the DMV you can recommend that has it?
Hi Tom, Have a trip to New York in July and wondering where you recommend. I know you have suggested places in prior chats but I cannot find them! thank you!
I'm all in favor. Any 'admin fee' or 'extra cost on the plate price' should me made clear online and in the menu.
I understand the complexity of the tipping issue, but it really is time to move into the 20th century on this one in my opinion. I know people fear the level of service going down, but that should take care of itself eventually, correct? I mean, other service industries without gratituity don't have this problem. You don't get bad service from the butcher at the grocery store, or the cashier at the massage parlor. I am fully on board with getting rid of the whole tipping and gratituity issue. Onward with good dining!
Hi Tom--thanks for all your wonderful work. 3 ladies meet regularly to dine and catch up. The pressure is on, it is my turn to select the restaurant. We are fairly laid back, looking for tasty food (can be adventurous), mid range $$, interesting cocktails a plus, 1 lady does not eat meat of any kind. DC location works for all. Can you help me out here?
Glad to be of service.
Do you like heat? Thip Khao in Columbia Heights is good for Laotian fireworks and any fish swaddled in banana leaves. Fainting Goat on U St. is fun for po boys, scallop crudo and flatbread with clams, arugula and piquillo peppers. New to the scene is Purple Patch, a tiny Filipino place in Mt. Pleasant that serves excellent lumpia, which the owner's mother makes and ships from Texas. Then there's the bustling China Chilcano in Penn Quarter, which pours top-notch pisco sours and is best for its Asian dishes (dumplings and the like).
Tom, I had to share the great service that my boyfriend and I received at Le Diplomate a week or two ago. We went famished on a Sunday, close to their closing time, and were dead set on (finally!) trying their burgers. To our dismay, they were out. The manager was deeply apologetic, and remembered us when we returned a few days later. The burgers ended up being on the house. Talk about a class act! I come time and time again for their food, but that service especially sealed the deal for me.
I'd add Matchbox, Ella's, Clyde's and District Chophouse.
Hi, Tom. I have a business event at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, on New Jersey Ave., next week and am wondering where I might duck out for a nice but not too long lunch with co-workers. Lunch is on the company, but we're not looking to splurge. However, last year we found a nearby diner that left something to be desired. Any suggestions?
I was sad to see Pitzze Table in Bethesda shut down, as I found their coal fired pizza great! Last time I was there, though, I had an experience similar to the Soi 38 poster. I had ordered a take-out pizza, and when I picked it up, their credit card machine was down. No problem - I had cash. However, while my pizza sat there cooling, the manager got out her phone, spent some time looking up the Maryland tax rate, then went to the back to find a calculator to work out what the tax on the pizza was, laboriously wrote all this down on a slip of paper, then got the calculator out again to add up the tax and the pizza for a final total. You know what? Your credit card machine is down. Eat the $1.27 tax.
(Nodding in agreement with you.)
Have you visited Macon Bistro since they got a new chef? We have been fans of the restaurant since it opened last year, and just recently went back. The menu seems to have shifted a bit more toward the French and away from the Southern. We always really loved the entrees, which were like comfort foods executed very well. Now the entrees seem more adventurous, which is interesting, but not what we loved about the restaurant. And the results were mixed. I thought the duck I had was good, but I didn't care for my husband's steak when I tried it. It was quite charred on the outside, with the burnt bitter flavor overwhelming the meat, which was otherwise tender and not overcooked on the inside. Really missed the spareribs though, which aren't on the menu now. I imagine we'll still be visiting, but I don't have the same feeling of wanting to go back like we did before. Curious what you think of the changes.
Along with the aforementioned Volt, I'll be revisiting Macon Bistro & Larder for my spring guide next month. Macon's new chef is Dan Singhofen of the late Eola in Dupont Circle. Based on my recent meals there, which revolved around biscuits, collard greens, country sausage and pecan pie (among other dishes), I don't think the southern accent has been completely dropped from the concept.
Reading today's Food Section article on the minor movement against tipping and how the SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer is an outspoken advocate of this cause, I was wondering what in the industry would be enough to get you to raise a flag. You've written about trends that you like or don't like -- reservation polices, noise, small plates, too precious menus -- but of these, or anything else (including tipping), is there any one change you would like to see? Something where, at the end of your career, you could say, "My writing made a difference."
What a great question. While the trend pieces you mention, foremost the problem with noisy restaurants, have garnered a lot of attention over my tenure, I think the columns that give me the greatest satisfaction involve shining a light on the work of talented chefs and others who might not have a public relations machine behind them. On a more personal note, I'm gratified by the reaction I get whenever I write about my mom or entertaining at home. Those essays and features have a way of getting people to think more about making their childhood favorites or having people over for meals. I love to hear about people getting together around meals they've prepared themselves, I guess.
Staying at the savoy suites hotel and need a good place with a short walk? Any suggestions?
Tom, having spent a lifetime in the hospitality industry (from counter person to management, food service to casinos and hotels), I understand how hard servers work and usually tip a minimum of 30%. However, last night I had a server who started out very professionally but quickly went downhill when he realized that my companion and I were not ordering anything but two entrées. The biggest problem was when I asked for bread. He hadn't brought any to us but we did have a basket because, due to the 30-minute wait to be seated, the hostess brought my companion (92 years old, wheelchair-bound and diabetic) some crackers when he was beginning to feel weak. The server looked at the basket when I asked for bread and said, "Oh, yeah, I will bring you ANOTHER one!" Even if we had been served bread earlier, my thoughts are that, as paying customers, we should have been served some when we were seated. Service became very sad as I even needed to flag him down for water refills. His tip was only 20% but I am wondering, was I being too sensitive to his comment? Even my companion said, as the waiter left, "Another one? We haven't had any!" I did not complain to management or to the server but the more I think about it, the ruder it seems. Your thoughts?
I like to nip that kind of snark in the bud when it happens. ("Excuse me?") You are more generous than most diners would have been, and this is coming from someone who worked as a server in college.
All these posts about tipping have made me wonder what would happen if we had tipping for customer service for cable companies and phone companies. Could you imagine? I'll bet that the cable guy wouldn't keep us waiting so long! So maybe we need to eliminate tipping for restaurants and impose it on Verizon and Comcast. Just a thought.
I think you'd create a monster there ....
The Cosmopolitan Grill on Richmond Highway offers a SUPERB version. I spent a lot of time in Sarajevo and have sent Balkan friends. The food is very authentic and aside from too many TVs in the dining room, a delightful place to eat!http://www.restaurant-cosmopolitan.com/Menu.html
Tom...thanks for doing these chats; I've enjoyed them for years and hope that you continue them far into the future. I was wondering if you are always on duty, or if you're ever able to turn off that part of your identity. For example: if you're on a multi-hour road trip and come lunchtime you hit an exit and have to choose between an Applebees and an Olive Garden, do you just pick one and think "Hey, it is what it is"? Similarly, if you're running out to lunch for a bite, are you able to turn off the critic switch and just grab a sandwich? Or has food become a part of your life that you treat differently now? Thanks again, and keep up the good work.
It's kind of hard to turn off the "critic" button, not just in fast-food joints, but even at the office vending machine, where my choices tend to be Fritos or cheese crackers with peanut butter. It's not a bother, though. It's not as if I think deeply and seriously about every single bite of, say, a McMuffin at the airport (a guilty pleasure, I confess).
Hi Tom, love your chats...I could use some help: I am tasked with finding a dinner spot for a group of 40 (yikes!) in early May for a business dinner, somewhere with a private or semi-private area. The group will consist of Americans and Europeans, so I'd lean towards something that will showcase American fare, but not a traditional steakhouse (since that is way overdone), but neither of those are a deal-breaker. We need to stay in the district, but the specific location doesn't need to be metro accessible. Thanks in advance!
I like the way you think. What a great opportunity to showcase the southern cooking at the veteran Vidalia in the West End, the farm-to-table approach at Blue Duck Tavern nearby or --- okay, this would be different -- the cool Asian menu at the sweeping new Maketto on H St. NE, which is headed up by Eric Bruner-Yang, a James Beard Award nominee for Rising Star.
Tom: Has any restauranteur or chef ever attempted to bribe you for a good review? If so, how did you respond? It would seem difficult to then write an objective review.
I've had a few letters including checks sent to me over the years, mostly from immigrant restaurant owners who probably didn't know better. Nothing recently, however.
Tom - need a moderately to low priced restaurant in DC or VA with capacity to hold around 10 people. Round table preferred! No restrictions on food. Any thoughts? Appreciate your suggestions.
Readers, I'm going to throw this out to you. No round tables are leaping to mind at the moment.
Tom: I know I'm being picky, but your emailer who wanted to move the tipping culture forward should probably have made it for the "21st century."
Ah, the hazards of live online chats!
Yes, those immigrants really aren't as savvy as "real Americans." You might want to think about how you phrase things.
My bad. That came out the wrong way. My apologies.
Perfect for teens. They are not after fine dining.
But the food is also meh.
Hong Kong Palace in Seven Corners. Skip the American-Chinese menu and go straight for the 'traditional' menu. Start with the spicy wontons and sichuan dry beef and finish with the chicken with stuffed peppers.
Reader to the rescue!
I read the article about some restaurants trying to move to living wages and no tips. Some of them instead include a service charge/administrative fee to cover this. Since tipping is optional and you aren't required to pay the full tip amount even if it's included on the bill, would patrons be required to pay the full fee?
I'm going to throw this one out to the article's author.
At the restaurants I visited in reporting this story, the admin fee is fixed, like the tax -- so, yes, you'd be required to pay the full fee. Tipping on top of that fee is optional or discouraged. However, if you received bad service and flagged it to a manager, I think any of these restaurants would be more than willing to comp some items, remove the fee, or find a way to otherwise make you happy.
They should head a few blocks down to Charlie Palmer, which has a three-course, $25 lunch.
Chez Francois in Great Falls is very formal. You might run into jeans on the patio, but a suit and gown wouldn't be out of place in the dining room.
One last try before I head off tomorrow night to Italy :) Any not to miss restaurants/cafes/gelattorias in Rome and/or Venice? Thanks so much for these chats!
As much a comment about being sensitive to cultural differences. Those who grew up outside the United States are not "defective" Americans. Many aspects that are acceptable in one culture are offensive in another....and vice versa! Sheesh, I was impressed with Tom's non-ethnocentrism!!!
Reader to my rescue!
Hi Tom, I'm going to have the rare day off during the work week and would like to be a "lady who lunches". I'd like to stay in DC and dine somewhere I couldn't normally afford for dinner. Fiola Mare and Iron Gate Inn seem to have prix fixe menus. Are there others? What do you recommend? It'll just be me and a book. Flexible on cuisine and would likely only have a single alcoholic drink.
Wow. When I was a teenager an undisclosed number of decades ago, I liked nothing more than going out to Le Lion D'Or, Jean Pierre, or other fine dining places in DC. Let's not make assumptions about what teens are looking for!
Hear! Hear! I was that kid, too.
"Yes, those immigrants really aren't as savvy as 'real Americans.' You might want to think about how you phrase things." Don't apologize, Tom -- that's not at all a fair reading of what you said. Noting that some recent immigrants may have come from cultures where bribes are just a simple fact of how things are done is not a slap about being "real" Americans. Whether that's a particularly bad reading comprehension failure on the *poster's* part, or just a chat troll looking for a reason to jump, it's bull.
This is decades ago. My father would hand the waiter his CC and say add 20%. this would often be in the beginning of the meal. He was a regular and well known. We received awesome service. He was loyal and staff was loyal to him.
With the recent influx of international, and domestic, talent opening up shop in casinos all over the strip I would consider ranking Vegas in the top 10. Thoughts?
I've been to places that tell me "just pay for it the next time you're here!" No inconvenience, and I have to come back!!
Vidalia has a great 2 or 3 course prix-fixe lunch with a menu that changes weekly.
Yet another good option -- albeit one without a view.
Hi Tom, I haven't been to DC in 5 years after moving out of state. We are planning a trip, 2 adults and an 8 year old, and I'm looking to you to suggest where we should dine. What is new, trendy and family friendly? We all love ethnic food but are open to your suggestions. What are some not to miss places? Thanks in advance for taking my question.
Newish (for you) and fun: Boss Shepherd's for fried chicken close to the Mall, the just-opened patio at Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown for steak frites and the city's best tuna nicoise salad, kooky Thai X-ing for family-style Thai, Etto on crazy-busy 14th St. for pizza and more ...
That's a wrap for today, gang. See you back here next week, same time.