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mkayahara

Rethinking tipping culture

316 posts in this topic

In the abstract, I'm kind of liking the idea of an optional service charge that goes to the management. If your service is sub par, they are the ones that should know, should be able to make improvements, and should take the financial hit if they don't provide a suitable experience. Much better than leaving some amount on the table so not even the servers know if you are dissatisfied or just cheap.

... assuming servers earn a living wage of course...


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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First of all, I don't hate unions. I'm in one. The union gives me job security, and keeps my employer from exploiting me. (Having to work overtime without the overtime pay, or similar shady practices.) I'm in a restaurant that doesn't NEED any of that, so I find the union to be largely irrelevant. But I know my history -- organized labor has largely been a force of good. Kids now go to school, not to work. We have weekends, and a 40-hour week. Overtime is an accepted part of the US employment experience.

Frankly, I feel sorry for the cooks and servers who aren't in a union. The cooks make anywhere between a quarter to one half what I do. (And our place turns a serious profit, so I feel my salary is well earned.) But the cooks who come out of the culinary union training programs are the worst of the worst -- much worse than even the for-profit culinary "schools." So I don't see how union training or certification will help matters in the US.

About Canuck tipping?

It's nice that you stereo-type an entire nation, and I'd be happy to reciprocate--there is ample anecdotal material, but seriously, if you want to learn about Canadian tipping habits, I suggest you talk to a few Canadian servers in Canada--the majority of their customers are Canadian, so they know best. Oh, and I'd stay away from tourist towns. Rooms division mngrs and Bosses have a peculiar habit of cutting deals with tour operators where "tipping is all taken care of" but "forget" to tell service staff. Seriously, the tipping here is around 10-15% for white-tablecloth restaurants. Minimum wage ranges from $8.75 to $10.00 here in B.C. with national health coverage. Oh, and the exchange rate for US-CDN is 1:1--has been for quite a few years now.

You give your years in the business as a kind of street-cred all the time. Here's mine -- I've worked nearly all of my adult life in US tourist towns, and most of that in the restaurant business. The servers I know universally have issues with the tipping habits of Canadians, most Europeans and most Asians. The time is long gone when we can just chalk it up to ignorance. It's not at all hard to Google the customs in the United States and try to be a "when in Rome (NY), do as the Romans do" traveler. And I know I've mentioned this before -- I have read guidebooks to my hometown (in German), that suggest that visitors can save money by not tipping. "They won't be happy, but they cannot do anything about it. If they add a tip automatically, ask the restaurant manager to remove it."

Europeans in particular seem to think our tip culture is tantamount to cultural armed robbery. Even when they tip, it is usually very grudgingly. Granted, there are many visitors who "get it" and don't seem to mind adding 15-20% because they know the server makes jack-squat otherwise. (Places like San Francisco are the exception. But even then, try to live in SF on minimum wage with no benefits. Can't be done.)

And while you might chafe at the notion that your countrymen are poor tippers, let me say this as bluntly as I can: No server in the United States jumps for joy when a tour bus full of Canadian visitors rolls up to their restaurant. Not one. Not ever. That's not my problem, as I'm back of the house (and quite well paid, incidentally). But I hear the stories from the servers. I have 20 years of anecdotes on my side that says your assessment doesn't square with reality.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Well, speaking as one of those Europeans who cause such dismay on their arrival at a US restaurant, I think there are 2 problems:

1) Lots of people simply don't know that the acceptable tipping percentage is different from home. My parents certainly didn't until I told them, and lots of my friends didn't either. If you live in a land where tips exist but 10% is the unquestioned norm, it's easy to see why the news might not break through that a 10% tip in the US is not enough. Not everyone researches such things before they go and it's not always common knowledge, no matter how strange that might seem to the average US waiter. It's simply not true to say that "the time is long gone when we can just chalk it up to ignorance". Most people I know going to the major cities in the US don't really bother with guidebooks, and they're certainly not researching local restaurant habits. Because US culture is so ubiquitous many of us assume we've a pretty firm grasp on it and probably don't need the guidebooks. Also, amazing as it may seem, googling restaurant tipping culture in the US is not top of many travellers' priorities. Again, most people I know who go to the US couldn't give a rat's about food and restaurants, and certainly don't do any research beforehand. Of course ignorance is a factor. Is it the only factor, of course NOT. Some people will indeed decide to screw you over because they can. Some American tourists are assholes, some European tourists are assholes. That's life. Not many tourists of any stripe manage the "when in Rome" suggestion, no matter how much I agree with it.

2) It seems to be basically the case that you have to tip 15% or 20% irrespective of how horrible the service. I personally have a problem with that, and I am confident that most tourists would also have a problem with that. When I quered this on eGullet I was told that the "correct" thing to do is to tip normally but complain to the manager. Culturally, that's a million miles from where I come from, and it makes the tip situation very difficult to understand for outsiders. If I'm not rewarding good service, and if I have no apparent control over an acceptable tip level anyway, then why not just include it in the price and we can all get on with it? On one trip to NY, some British friends tipped 10% (out of ignorance, it was their first meal out in the US) and then had the exits to the restaurant blocked by the waiter so they couldn't leave. If that's the level we're at, let's get over the pretence that it's a tip and start including it on the bill.

I'm not looking for an argument, I'm just stating my opinions and anecdotal experiences. I don't for one second believe anything's going to change, but it's not always the case that tourists are out to knowingly screw over the wait staff.


Edited by Simon_S (log)
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I completely agree that nobody should feel required to tip for bad service. I almost never get bad service when dining out -- and it doesn't matter where I am. I just seem to have a knack for it. I have a good craich no matter where I go. I chalk it up to always being genuinely enthusiastic. It's just my nature.

But I do have a problem with "culturally, that's a million miles from where I come from." I travel often and extensively. I have had cultural "problems" with the way things are done elsewhere -- but I suck it up and "do as the Romans do" because that is what is expected of me. I am not going to be the ugly American when I travel. The world sees quite enough ugly American travelers. (I cringe when I see them, too. They're an embarrassment.) I do my utmost to blend in as much as possible. Try THAT in a Muslim country during Ramadan, for instance.

So I see no reason why visitors to my country shouldn't hold themselves to the same standards that I do when I'm visiting THEIR country. Here, we tip our servers. That's just how it is. We can debate the merits all day long. But for the time being, that's how it is. So people visiting this country should respect our cultural idiosyncrasies. Just like Americans should do when traveling -- domestically or internationally, doesn't matter. I'll bet there are a bunch of Amish people in Pennsylvania and Ohio who are sick of ugly Americans, too.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Perhaps we need to expand tipping rather than eliminate it. The chef doing the expediting could have a jar - to insure promptitude.

Instead of answering "Qui, chef!" to an order to fire an entre, a line cook would respond "75 cents, chef!"

And of course, you'll want to drop a quarter into the sauté pan you're sending to be washed.

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Sorry going off topic:

Why flight attendents do not get tips?

They do the same or more than a restaurant server.

dcarch

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Sorry going off topic:

Why flight attendents do not get tips?

They do the same or more than a restaurant server.

dcarch

I believe that is because, initially, the first flight attendants were registered nurses. The whole procedure/process on the plane was handled like a visit to fancy medical clinic. Since we don't have a tipping culture in the world of hospitals, that's how it's evolved.

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Canada has the same tipping culture as the US? News to me. Canadians are just about the worst tippers on earth. Ask any server in any tourist town in the US.

Yeah, it's nice that you choose to stereotype an entire country based on your anecdotal evidence, but that doesn't change the fact that tipping is standard and expected in Canada, and 15% is considered the norm. Some individuals may not adhere to that norm, but that doesn't mean the tipping culture is different. And I personally take exception to your remark, being a Canadian who routinely tips 18%-20%.


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Tipping isn't always reflective of good service. Some people are just generous. Some people are just tightwads.

Many years ago when I was a server (we were waitresses then), I gave good service to all my tables regardless of how demanding and/or demeaning they were or conversely how jolly they were to have as guests. I made excellent money and I tipped out to the bartender and the busboys. It was not common practice to tip out to the kitchen, but we would bring the cooks pitchers of soda pop or water and oftentimes a pitcher of beer at the end of the shift when they were cleaning up.

It could be that there was a grievance of some sort held by the cooks against the FOH, but I am not aware of it. One of my coworkers was dating the head chef and she spilled about everything that was going on between them so I'm sure it would have been brought up at sometime if it were the case.

At one point, the AFL-CIO approached our restaurant and tried to get us to vote to join the union. A vote was held and they were soundly trounced. Most of us had had bad experiences with working in union stores before and didn't wish to revisit them. It sounds as if some others experiences are quite different and if that works for them, then that's fine.

Sort of off topic, but I am going to take exception to this characterization "Ugly American". I don't like it and it is a stereotype.

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2) It seems to be basically the case that you have to tip 15% or 20% irrespective of how horrible the service. I personally have a problem with that, and I am confident that most tourists would also have a problem with that. When I quered this on eGullet I was told that the "correct" thing to do is to tip normally but complain to the manager. Culturally, that's a million miles from where I come from, and it makes the tip situation very difficult to understand for outsiders. If I'm not rewarding good service, and if I have no apparent control over an acceptable tip level anyway, then why not just include it in the price and we can all get on with it? On one trip to NY, some British friends tipped 10% (out of ignorance, it was their first meal out in the US) and then had the exits to the restaurant blocked by the waiter so they couldn't leave. If that's the level we're at, let's get over the pretence that it's a tip and start including it on the bill.

Frankly, I disagree with the whole notion that a tip shouldn't be reflective of service. I typically tip around 20%, but excellent service can get you more and crappy service will get you less.

I will say that if I left someone what they considered to be a bad tip and the waiter blocked the exit to the restaurant I would flip out. The manager would have about 2 minutes to refund the meal (including the tip) and make that waiter apologize in front of the dining room, or I would be calling the police. That's completely unacceptable.

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Okay kids. Diplomacy aside.

I hate tipping bad service (incompetence) but having worked and relied on tips myself it is hard not to leave something (10%) even in the worst of situations. The going rate here for wait-staff is still $2.13/hr so to make any decent cash a server or bartender has to hustle. To me it's a skilled profession that many don't take seriously while employed in the industry. I made good money with my best effort even though I couldn't hold a candle to the naturals who raked in the cash. And at one joint I had to tip out up to 52% of my tips to the cooks and bartender. Anyway...

Skills earned as a waiter and bartender flung into the weeds- such as keeping calm, situationally aware and steady in a combat-like chaos prepared me for my current profession. So I don't feel bad about my sliding scale of tippage. Shining in a bad situation might get a better tip than being bubbly and cute when it is slow.

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I may have posed my point poorly. Here's the short-and-dull version.

1. Restaranteurs benefit from the tipping system - it allows them to reduce overhead on slow days, incentivise employees, and shift the burden of compensation to those who will pay the most. It's a very good system.

2. In return for the increased risk, employees can profit very heavily. Those at the top are compensated very well.

3. For the customer who actually tips, there's a significantly higher final price combined with service dependent on how nice you dress.

4. Waiters can get screwed severely by a kitchen screw-up, or will profit off a restaurant's success. This hurts waiters at poor restaurants, but can be very rewarding for those at the top (As above.)

5: It's more profitable for the restauranteur to pad the price of big-ticket items than to add a flat fee across the menu for service. As such, you'd be paying a percentage of your tab anyway.

Sales jobs are often much the same way. Paying your employees entirely on comissions is easy, but it can mean that smaller customers can get awfully screwed, and the risk requires higher average compensation.

It's a matter of choice, EdwardJ. We are not living in Medieval times when one was destined by birth to work in a particular trade.

Yes...and no.

A friend currently lives in the middle of nowhere. She's dyslexic, so she figured she'd try being a waitress for a while. Live the american dream and all that.

Problem is, she's making ~$600/month during the slow season. You can live in the middle of northern Wisconsin on $600 a month, but god forbid you leave. $600/month in Madison, WI buys you a walk-in closet.

Incidentally, god forbid you have to go to the hospital for food poisoning and rack up an enormous bill. (The restaurant in question - not her employer - won't pay; I suspect we can't prove it was food poisoning, even though two other people ended up in the hospital that evening from the same place.)

She's been trying to leave for months. I doubt she ever will. Adam Smith's "perfect market" is about as realistic as carnivores embracing Tofurkey.

Cooking and being a waiter are two completely different skill sets. Of course there is going to be income inequality.

Your "of course" confuses me. Why of course? How is the dollar value of a particular skill set determined?

By market forces. In this case, market forces have zero correlation with anything other than the restaurant industry's convenience. I once recall the head dessert chef at WD-50 having bargained his way up to a little over $60,000 a year. I know artists from Wisconsin who do better than that selling jewelry at art fairs.

Whoa, hold on there! America never had an apprenticeship system, but more importantly there is no standard or benchmark for cooks in the U.S. "The industry" evolved around immigrants who couln't get hired into well paying jobs and instead opened up a restaurant, laundry, or other small business--and still does to this very day. But I digress, How can you have an apprenticeship and not have a standardized qualification?

It's rather curious that you say that. I had some university classes at a tech school that trains both chefs and electricians. The latter had a more formal process of apprenticeship, but both made it pretty clear that you'd be starting on the bottom and learning on the job.

There's no formal standard for chefs because the quality of their work is apparent to the untrained. I don't actually know that much about structural grounding, but I don't care if a chef's a three-eyed Venusian if he never botches an order during the Friday night rush.

I would have to guess that the price of meals is higher if there's no tipping and the restaurateur has to pay the wait staff more per hour. The question is; is the combined total larger of smaller than a meal + tip situation.

Yesterday we had lunch at a nice local restaurant. The fixed price lunch (2 courses plus cheese & dessert) was 14.50€ ($19.00) This was for the meal and included service

Is this in France? If so, the price is much lower. If you index cost of living by things that are a little bit higher (rent, though this may no longer be the case) and things that are a lot higher (automobiles, where this is DEFINITELY the case), France's cost of living is definitely higher. It certainly isn't less.

I can't make a direct comparison, but $16 in Wisconsin will buy you a bowl of soup ($3.50), a BBQ sandwich ($9), and pie ($4.50.) No cheese plate. Soda $2. I don't know what the difference is, but $16 is definitely a deal.

Sure -- how exactly do you expect this to change? It would be GREAT to have the kind of apprenticeship programs they have in Europe. But do you seriously think ANYTHING is going to change here? Not when for-profit "universities" can fleece the unknowing out of so much money. (I have co-workers with high five-figure debt. .)

Congratulations! You've just isolated why quite a lot of formal economics is bollocks when applied to anything other than commodities. The actual valuation of a culinary arts program is much lower than the perceived valuation, and the vast oversupply is pushing wages down. It's like the housing bubble, if people were still buying houses.

But I know my history -- organized labor has largely been a force of good. Kids now go to school, not to work. We have weekends, and a 40-hour week. Overtime is an accepted part of the US employment experience.

They also ate Detroit, and increased the magnitude of the Great Depression (the old one.) In theory, a unions gives a supply-side monopoly to labor suppliers ("people") to balance out a demand-side monopoly of labor consumers ("employers.") In reality, they can warp the market just as badly as any other monopoly, and senority within the union often results in preferential treatment.

Your union seems to have created a situation that is stable and profitable for all parties involved, and I applaud them for it. But you've also got the UAW scalping new hires so that older employees don't lose benefits from the bankrupt companies they work for. The word "Union" has a lot of baggage.


Edited by jrshaul (log)

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jrshaul, I am unfamiliar with the laws in the state of Wisconsin, but it would stand to reason that if your friend is only making $600 she is eligable for your state's version of Medicare to cover her health insurance and likely for some kind of food stamps and all other programs structured for those who can't make ends meet. Likewise, she is eligable for free student aid/grants to help her learn to cope with and defeat her dyslexia and help her find a job or a career path that will be more rewarding financially and not as taxing on the body as she gets older. The upside to restaurant work for young people is that it is transportable in that there are restaurants everywhere.

All that said, I concur that Culinary Academies are a waste of money as are design schools and any other technical-type school. It's best to go for it and get a four year degree that generally ends up costing just a bit more but carries much more prestige and will give one a springboard to further education if one should desire to go further with one's studies. Four year colleges and universities offer hospitality programs that are well regarded.

None of this is going to change the structure of tipping, however. If one is attentive, has a good memory, is intelliigent and well-groomed, polite and accomodating, well the world is your oyster as a server. Conversely, the work in a kitchen is much more labor intensive and often unsatifsfying financially not to mention the toll it takes on one's body.

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Unions?

Like I said before, ther are two ways to make an employer pay a higher salary:

-Put agun to his head and say "Strike, or pay up"

- Develop an ascending range of qualifications and a payscale to accompany it.

Most trades adopt choice #2. It takes a lot more effort, but the benefits are greater.

Ask the plumbers, electricians, HVAC guys, etc.

But the US has no standard for cooks or servers, nothing to base salaries on, nothing to design a culinary school curriculum on.

With choice #1 you always are at the mercy at the cost of living going up.

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I feel that the best solution is to pay waiters more, increment the prices 12%, and put up a big sign saying "Waiters are paid enough you don't need to tip them (though you still can if you like.)" If the waiters mistreat anyone, they get the boot.

There's only one bike shop in Madison that doesn't pay their workers on commission. It's also the only one I buy at.

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I worked on commission for over 15 years. It separates the sheep from the goats in no time. Commissioned sales is a meritocracy and is one of the natural homes of type A personalities (I speak from experience as a luxury and domestic car salesman). The house/store will pay you minimum wages for 90 days to try you out and to train you, but if you aren't selling anything by then you're out on your ear. It's fantastic experience and one I truly enjoyed.

Unions seem to be home to a lot of slackers. Not all of them of course, but look at the Post Office, for instance. I had a woman tell me that working at the Post Office was a fantastic place to practice her alcoholism, since there wasn't a lot of work to do, too many workers to do it and no accountability. All with a pension attached!

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The topic is shifting again, but ....without addressing whether unions shield slackers....the less motivated and able do need to work and feed their families too. A meritocracy only works for those with some merit. Govt jobs like the USPS are safe havens for many...which isn't to say that all or even many postmen are slackers and drunks. (I contend that this is still on topic since drinking...which occurs in restaurants... is being discussed)

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the less motivated and able do need to work and feed their families too.

I think the standard "meritocratic" response to that is that the "less motivated" will become more motivated once they stop being able to feed their families.


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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the less motivated and able do need to work and feed their families too.

I think the standard "meritocratic" response to that is that the "less motivated" will become more motivated once they stop being able to feed their families.

That would be the response; and up to a point, it is true.

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The problem with the usps argument is that they're both better snd cheaper than the other options. They also must serve areas so remote no once could turn a profit. Around here, the his party selects for maulmen whi work like dogs.

As for comission sales, the quality of service is often crap. I avoid them by default, as any post-sale service is unpaid labor and therefore non-existent.


Edited by jrshaul (log)

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I'd like to address the misconception that the US has no skills standards for cooks. Membership and rank in the ACF is directly tied to skills. There are written examinations, practical examinations, apprenticeships, university-level course requirements in sanitation and management, etc. all required. For fun, there are highly regulated competitions and mentoring programs. Now, ACF members represent a a small percentage of all the cooks in the US, but please, do not deny our existence!

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Ahhh, now we're getting to the heart of the matter!

ACF focuses on Chefs not cooks. Cooks don't exist, they are called "culinarians" and the criteria for this is very, very, very basic. Many Culinary schools do not adopt ACF standards.

The whole thing is this:

-Cooks are judged by what they put on a plate.

-Chefs are judged by how well you manage the resources given to you (Labour, inventory, equipment, time)

To become a good chef you have to be a competent cook--not excellent, but competent.

Look after the pennies and the dollars look after themselves. Focus the training on cooks, and the Chefs will emerge by themselves.

Q: Where does this cooking background come from?

Last time I looked at the ACF website , the criteria for "Culinarians" was a cooking test that featured making chicken stock and a few vegetable cuts. That would be first year stuff for most European apprenticeships. What concerned me more was the criteria for Sous-Chef status. One criteria was that the applicant must be in a supervisory position--fair enough, I get that, and I agree. Then, on the practical, one criteria is to temp steaks properly. Whoa buddy! You're supervising employees and you have to prove you know how to grill a steak med. rare?????? How can you effectively supervise a grill cook if you yourself can't tell the difference between med-rare and med. well?i

That was a few years ago, and I hope (really hope) things have changed.

Have they?

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Ahhh, now we're getting to the heart of the matter!

ACF focuses on Chefs not cooks. Cooks don't exist, they are called "culinarians" and the criteria for this is very, very, very basic. Many Culinary schools do not adopt ACF standards.

The whole thing is this:

-Cooks are judged by what they put on a plate.

-Chefs are judged by how well you manage the resources given to you (Labour, inventory, equipment, time)

To become a good chef you have to be a competent cook--not excellent, but competent.

Look after the pennies and the dollars look after themselves. Focus the training on cooks, and the Chefs will emerge by themselves.

Q: Where does this cooking background come from?

Last time I looked at the ACF website , the criteria for "Culinarians" was a cooking test that featured making chicken stock and a few vegetable cuts. That would be first year stuff for most European apprenticeships. What concerned me more was the criteria for Sous-Chef status. One criteria was that the applicant must be in a supervisory position--fair enough, I get that, and I agree. Then, on the practical, one criteria is to temp steaks properly. Whoa buddy! You're supervising employees and you have to prove you know how to grill a steak med. rare?????? How can you effectively supervise a grill cook if you yourself can't tell the difference between med-rare and med. well?i

That was a few years ago, and I hope (really hope) things have changed.

Have they?

http://www.acfchefs.org/Content/NavigationMenu2/Certification/Levels/CC/default.htm

That's a link for the current requirements for certification at the lowest level for a regular, hot-side, cook. (There are certifications for Pastry, Personal Chefs, Administrators and Educators which I am not discussing in this thread. I myself am a lowly CPC, so, I know a bit more about Pastry certification than I do about the hot-side. However, my past employer hosted practical exams, so I have seen all sorts of practicals in progress.) Note that the very first requirement is two years work experience, or, one year plus a degree from an accredited culinary school, or and associates degree from an accredited culinary school that requires an externship. -That is where the cooking background comes in.

On top of the cooking background, there are required classes -three 30-hour classes with final exams. Then, come the written exam and the 2½ hour practical exam. The practical varies from test to test, but generally involves knife cuts, and making two complete plates of food (protein, starch, veg) along with some other requirements, which vary, like say, boning a whole chicken intact.

The upper levels of certification build on the lower levels and are more difficult. The practical exams go from a few hours long to a few days, to over a week. At every level, the practical exam is an important part of certification. It would not be possible to complete the practical without having extensive (not just knowing how to cook the menu of the last couple places you worked at) real-world cooking experience.

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What concerned me more was the criteria for Sous-Chef status. One criteria was that the applicant must be in a supervisory position--fair enough, I get that, and I agree. Then, on the practical, one criteria is to temp steaks properly. Whoa buddy! You're supervising employees and you have to prove you know how to grill a steak med. rare?????? How can you effectively supervise a grill cook if you yourself can't tell the difference between med-rare and med. well?

Isn't that the point then? If you can't tell the difference, then you can't supervise a grill cook, and therefore you can't be sous-chef.

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What concerned me more was the criteria for Sous-Chef status. One criteria was that the applicant must be in a supervisory position--fair enough, I get that, and I agree. Then, on the practical, one criteria is to temp steaks properly. Whoa buddy! You're supervising employees and you have to prove you know how to grill a steak med. rare?????? How can you effectively supervise a grill cook if you yourself can't tell the difference between med-rare and med. well?

Isn't that the point then? If you can't tell the difference, then you can't supervise a grill cook, and therefore you can't be sous-chef.

Uh-huh......AFTER you've (falsely) instructed subordinates to cook "Rare" as medium and "medium" as well done..........

Thanks for the link Lisa

From what I read, I understand that to apply for the testing, a "Culinarian" must have at least 2 years working experience, and in the last 10 years.

Alternatively-but not required- a candidate with 1 year culinary arts education only needs 1 year working experience, and if an Associate's degree in culinary arts, no job experience is needed.

This has really improved since I last looked at the site a few years ago, this is really good news.

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