Off The Menu: ‘Tip the Kitchen’ boosts earnings, morale of cooks and dishwashers

Versie Dortch

The disparity between what servers and kitchen workers earn has long been a source of friction in the restaurant world. With waitstaff getting tips that substantially supplement their earnings, back of the house workers, who are often prohibited from sharing in those tips, end up making a lot less than their front-of-the-house counterparts.

One multi-location restaurant group, Charleston, South Carolina-based 5th Street Group, has come up with a strategy that deals with the disparity in the form of a “Tip the Kitchen” initiative. 5th Street Group, which operates restaurants in Charleston, Charlotte and Nashville, has begun adding a second tip line to the guest checks it presents its customers.

That second line is for the back-of-house staff – line cooks, prep cooks, and dishwashers — who don’t otherwise benefit from the gratuity a patron leaves for the waitstaff.

Patrick Whalen, the CEO of the 5th Street Group, reports that his “Tip the Kitchen” program has helped his group avoid the staffing woes other restaurants are currently experiencing. 5th Street currently pays line cooks $18 to $20 an hour; funds from “Tip the Kitchen” program are supplementing that amount by an average of $50 a shift.

Whalen’s company cites reduced turnover and a less toxic work environment as the primary benefits of the “Tip the Kitchen” program.

Whether the idea would translate to other restaurant settings is an intriguing question. 5th Street’s restaurants are high-end urban operations, with $15 appetizers, $30 entrees, and $45 steaks on the menu, and adding two tips to the bill effectively increases those menu prices by up to 30%. While the program does introduce more pay equity into the restaurant environment, it also would seem to have the effect of putting the operation itself at a competitive disadvantage with other establishments using a more traditional approach to tipping.

Side dishes s on the 5th Street Group can be found at their social media feed,

Though the day itself is still more than six weeks away, it’s certainly not too soon to think about making reservations for a Thanksgiving dinner “out,” especially if you have your heart set on one of the region’s more popular holiday dining venues.

Restaurants are expecting strong Turkey Day demand, and nearly all are under COVID-related capacity restrictions that are likely to result in early sell-outs.

Many operations will also be offering Thanksgiving to-go options, either in the form of side dishes, whole roasted turkeys, or complete dinner packages.

Chipotle Mexican Grill locations are currently featuring the chain’s latest protein option – smoked beef brisket.

Made using the chain’s “Responsibly Raised” beef, the brisket is smoked, grill-charred, and seasoned with roasted jalapenos and chipotle chilies. The prepared brisket is then chopped and glazed with a signature sauce made with still more smoked chilies.

Success in test markets has led to the brisket’s introduction chainwide, where it can be specified in burritos, bowls, salads, and more.

Perhaps concerned about potential supply issues, Chipotle is for now treating the brisket as a limited-time-only menu add-on. It’s also available as part of another recent menu introduction, the Quesabrisket, an item to be featured through the end of October, but available only through digital channels, the chain’s app and website.

A brisket-enhanced cheese quesadilla, the Quesabrisket also includes tomatillo-red chili salsa and queso blanco. Chipotle is promoting the dish as “a balance of smoky, sweet, and heat.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill’s web site is; their app can be found at the two major app stores.

The Steaming Tender Restaurant in Palmer will be hosting Psychic Gary McKinstry in a dinner show on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

The dinner portion of the evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a choice of chicken Florentine or baked haddock; a side salad, potato, and vegetable will accompany the main course selections. Dessert is to be Steaming Tender’s house specialty, Whiskey Bread Pudding.

McKinstry will be on stage from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m., demonstrating his paranormal gifts.

Tickets are $65 per person; gratuity is not included in that price. Tickets for the dinner and show can be obtained by calling Steaming Tender at (413) 283-2744.

Starting Oct. 9, the Deerfield Inn will be offering Hayrides through historic Deerfield. Also scheduled for Oct. 10, 11, 30, and 31, the private 30-minute wagon rides are provided by Muddy Brook Farm in Amherst, with the route incorporating a scenic progress along Old Deerfield’ scenic Main Street.

Each ride is $50 and can accommodate up to four people; an additional $5 per person secures space for up to an additional four passengers. Reservations are strongly suggested, with payment due at the time of booking.

A late lunch or early dinner at Champney’s Restaurant can also be arranged as part of a Hayride outing.

Call (413) 774-5587 to book a wagon ride.

The Irish House Restaurant and Trinity Pub at the Irish Cultural Center in West Springfield will be hosting a German Pairing Dinner on Oct. 14. Starting at 6:30 p.m. the evening will feature a four-course menu, each division of which will be paired with a distinctive German beer.

The meal lineup begins with a beet salad garnished with goat cheese and walnuts; Flammkuchen, a German-style pizza in the thin-crusted tradition, will follow.

Rack of lamb served with mushroom spatzle and white asparagus will serve as the centerpiece of the dining experience, while a Black Forest Cake generously moistened with Kirsch will wrap things up.

Tickets are $55 for the general public. Call (413) 342 -4358 to inquire if seats are available.

Impossible Foods, the Redwood City, CA company that introduced the world to the Impossible Burger back in 2016, will this month be rolling out its latest plant-based meat substitute, Impossible Pork.

Originally conceptualized as a food that could earn halal and kosher certification, Impossible Foods has now redefined the pork wannabe’s target market, planning to promote the product to consumers in both the USA and Asia.

The primary component of Impossible Pork is soy, with sunflower and coconut oil added to simulate the fatty lushness of natural pork. Spices, sugars, and other seasonings complete the flavor profile, which is, according to independent taste tests, is often preferred over that of the real deal.

Impossible Pork has fewer calories and less fat than natural pork, but contains just about the same amount of protein.

As Impossible Foods scales up production, Impossible Pork should be available from major food service distributors before the end of 2021.

More information on Impossible Foods and its plant-based meat substitutes can be found at the company’s web site,

A chance to once again experience the sounds of the British Invasion era will be available at Figaro Restaurant in Enfield as the eatery hosts Union Jack, a five-piece tribute band that specializes in the sounds of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other artists that created the special sounds of the 1960s.

Union Jack is appearing on Sunday, Oct. 10; a 5:30 p.m. dinner seating will precede the show. A buffet of Italian American specialties will be available, and food purchases by show ticket holders are required.

Tickets for the show only are $23. Call (860) 745-2414 for reservations.

In part as a result of this summer’s record heat in the Northwest, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is preparing new restaurant workplace regulations.

Designed to protect back-of-the-house employees from dangerous heat, the agency plans on frequent inspections during unusually warm weather. The purpose of these enforcement actions, OSHA says, will be to educate restaurant owners and managers on best practices to help employees deal with extreme heat events.

Air conditioning is rarely found in restaurant kitchens, since the powerful fans used to draw off cooking odors would also remove cooled air from production areas. Such exhaust equipment makes air conditioning kitchen spaces both expensive and somewhat futile.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 45 years of restaurant and educational experience. Robert can be reached on-line at [email protected].

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