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All the Restaurants Questions You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask
by Elan Kornblum & GKRM Staff (these answers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher)
ARTICLE

One of the reasons I started this magazine was to bridge the gap between restaurant owner and customer. Yes, some of you might understand a little bit of what the owners go through, but unless you deal with them on a daily basis, one can not even comprehend how stressful and difficult it is to run a restaurant.


Unfortunately, there are some customers that take advantage of restaurants and the owners. Read some of the true restaurants stories in Tom's Top Ten and these questions ahead, and you better understand the restaurant world is pretty crazy. There are a lot of things that people try to get away with in restaurants that they would never try in other industries.


In addition, some customers feel that the owners are "robbing them blind" when they charge $3 for a soda or $60 for a piece of steak. What many should understand is that, part of that $3 or $60, is going to pay for that soda or steak, but a lot of it is also going to pay for: the rent, chefs, waiters, busboys, receptionists, mashgiach, their income; cleaning the linens; paying for the water, electricity, heat or air condition bills, etc. 



Over the past several years, and you probably have noticed it yourself, prices for food has gone up considerably, which means higher expenses for restaurants. The owners don't want to charge you more, but sometimes they have to. The real question you have to ask yourself is, if these owners are charging so much, how come restaurants go out of business so frequently?


So in order to allow the owners to explain where they are coming from and to just get some good old-fashioned questions answered, an email was sent out to our online readers to see if they had any questions for the restaurant owners. The response was overwhelming - hundreds of questions poured in. Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, topics like tipping and service were just as important as food related questions.


However, due to time and space, here's just a sample of some of your questions with candid answers provided by restaurant  owners. Some questions have one response answers and some are answered by different owners. 



TIPPING

Do I have to leave a tip?


1) If the service was good you should definitely give a tip and the better the service the more generous the tip should be. Remember if the kitchen fouled up or the food wasn't good or it was a busy night and it took longer than usual, the waiter shouldn't lose out on it; he is doing his best. If you get good service and don't leave the standard tip of 15% it could be a chilul hashem and it most probably is!


2) Always! I go out 2-3x week to many restaurants due to my trade. I have never received such bad service to consider NO TIP. To educate our customers, let them know tips sometimes effect just one waiter, but some restaurants work on pooled tips. That means the entire staff; servers, bussers, runners, bartenders, depend on your tip. If you don't tip it may not be affecting one person's livelihood, but many others. I just couldn't live with that on my mind if I didn't tip. Here's the industry rule: 10% terrible service; 15% tip ended in the 1980's, so today a 15% tip means less than average level of service. 20% tip has been the standard since the 1990s. 25% If you really were delighted with service.


I've gotten my bill for the meal & regardless if I was satisfied with the service, the tip is already included. I find this very annoying, and I have even stopped going to a particular restaurant for this very reason. Why is it that some restaurants include a tip in the price for your meal?


1) Because I would assume that the waiters have been stiffed too many times. It's done to protect the waiters from no tips at all.


2) I never understood it nor do I like it but when the people are from out of town I will put the tip on knowing that they don't tip.


3) In Israel it is forbidden and you can ask to remove the tip.


4) We only do it on tables of 8 or more  We include the tip on the bill in our restaurant. Even though it is on the bill, it is still suggested. If you are unhappy, by all means we will remove it and you can decide what to leave. At the same time, if you really enjoyed, feel free to reflect that on the tip. 



Editor's Note: Here is the rule:


The City Department of Consumer Affairs prohibits restaurants from adding tips onto whatever tables they feel like. Its rule states that a restaurant can impose a 15 percent gratuity on parties of eight or more as long as it conspicuously prints the policy on the menu.


HOWEVER, restaurants circumvent the rules by adding on a "service charge" which is technically different than a gratuity.A service charge is supposed to go to the restaurant and not just the waiter and is doled out to staffers as management sees fit. Consumer affairs allows "service charges" for ANY size party.


If waiter service is not good. Do I have to explain why I left a small or no gratuity?


1) You are better off leaving what you want, and explain to a manager what went wrong. Or you can explain to the manager immediately while you have a problem and try to have him fix it. If that doesn't work then you can leave a smaller tip and not feel bad about it.


2) Yes you need to inform the manager or he won't know what happened and can't fix it.


3) You should explain, to educate the waiter so the next customers can benefit from improved service (hopefully).


Is the tipping percentage different in other countries?


A little, in some countries 12% is customary, but we live in America. What was once 15% is now 18%-20%. Yes, Israel is 12%


Are there customers that leave without tipping at all?


1) Yes. Some people even leave without paying the full bill.


2) Very few, but mostly it's tourists and out of country people.


3) Sure, usually Europeans, where tipping isn't customary.



Do the waiters pool the tips or does each one get his/her tables tips?


1) Depends on the place, but our waiters pool, it makes all waiters responsible for all customers.


2) I feel each one should keep their tips. They work harder and better if they know they are on their own.


Does the restaurant keep a percentage of the tips?


NO, that is against the law.


SERVICE

What is the acceptable wait time from ordering to serving?


Depends on the restaurant and the food. My opinion, 5-10 minutes fast food, 10-15 casual dining, 10-20 for fine dining. This will also depend on what you ordered, and if you ordered an appetizer.


What happens if we are not served in that time?


1) Complain.

2) You can wait a little longer. 

3) Hopefully, there is bread on the table...


Will the prepared plate be replaced if it does not meet expectations?


It should be, if you know what you are ordering. But not if you ordered something a special way, or you order an item well done and it is dry or burnt. You can't expect to order something, and when the dish comes you stare at it for a while, and then call the waiter to say it was not what you expected. These days most menus explain what the item is, and the waiter can usually explain it a little more if you have questions.


If something really does not taste good or if I don't like it or it's not as the menu or waiter described it, is it ok to send it back? Should I expect to get charged?


1) Definitely OK and there should be no charge. However, if you start to mess around with the dish - "I want this sauce instead of that, or not this and add that" - then don't complain that it is not to your liking.


2) Yes!  Send it back.  You should not get charged for that dish. You will be expected to order something else from the same menu (meaning replace a salad with a salad, a pasta with a pasta, a fish with a fish, or at minimum a main with a main).


3) If it's no good as in rancid or just bad you shouldn't get charged. If you just don't like it you can't expect us to pay for your tasting pleasure.


4) Usually but it depends. I don't agree with a customer who has experimented with a particular dish outside of their comfort zone and expects to have the dish replaced if it did not meet expectations. We are not in business of returns and don't want to be penalized for our creativity. However, if a fish dish, like a Salmon (no particular sauce), doesn't taste right because you may think that it is old, then yes. If the menu is descriptive and it is returned because it had a odd flavor from a sauce that the guests is not accustomed to such as coconut or saffron, then as much as I don't want to replace it, I would need to if I want to keep the customer. I despise this scenario, because now I am taking a loss on the salmon, because I not be able to sell it again. Why should I take the loss for the customer not reading the menu properly?


Are the staffs trained in what goes into dishes so they don't have to keep on asking the chef?


1) At the finer places, the staff is trained. However, staffs in most restaurants are altogether not trained enough. Firstly because the change over of wait staff is so frequent, and second, too many of them don't understand.


2) Yes, and yet in some cases of serious allergies it's always better to be 100% sure, therefore asking the chef is imperative.


3) They are trained but we don't expect them to be chefs. I always want them to double check. Today we have too many allergic reactions and health issues.


What's the best way to handle poor service while dining? (Particularly in restaurants where the gratuity is automatically added to the check)


If at any point you feel that the service is not up to par then it's advisable to speak with a manager. Most likely he/she will make sure the rest of your dining experience is enjoyable. It's always best to approach matters in a non-confrontational manner, keeping in mind that the manager is there to help you. 



Why do we need to make reservations even if the restaurant isn't busy?


This is both beneficial for customer and for restaurant. Restaurants are unpredictable and tend to fill up suddenly. A reservation will assure you a table (most of the time) and will give the kitchen and floor manager a definitive amount of customers to prepare for. One can never tell when there will be a party of 15.


When I take non Jewish or non frum business clients to top Manhattan restaurants (name withheld), they often remark in the form of a question, why is this restaurant so noisy?ť I respond with a question: You mean non-kosher restaurants are much quieter? And their answer is unfortunately obvious!   What can be done to reduce the noise level in the upscale kosher restaurant market?


1) Unfortunately the restaurant itself has no control over the volume of their patrons. We do the best we can by playing soft music and dimming lights in order to set a certain calming ambience. Generally busy restaurants are loud.


2) I think that's funny. I go to non kosher restaurants all the time and I think it depends on the type of restaurant. I don't think kosher restaurants are noisy.  I think delis are, but not upscale restaurants.


What makes a customer hard to deal verses just common actions and reactions of customers?



Disrespectful customers, Bad manners. Eating half their meal and then saying they didn't like it.


Why do restaurants provide poor service?


Training and lack of experienced servers. If the volume of the restaurant is not large enough, or the tips are always 15%. This does not support a healthy paycheck for today's top notch server. Inexperienced servers without proper training give you poor service. A good server, with training and attention to detail, can earn 20% consistently and will find themselves occasionally getting 25%.


True story. Location- Israel: The waiter said the specials of the day was calf tongue big enough for 2 if you each order an appetizer or enough for one without an appetizer. Out comes the tongue ...... it's a complete tongue on a plate, uncut, a sauce on the side with the ridges not so appetizing to the rest of the diner guests... but this is not the story. The story is everything on the menu is like 250 shekels ($50-60) or so figuring the special is a tad more or the same price.....out comes the bill 480 shekels ($125). Did the waiter have an obligation to let me know how much it was beforehand, (especially because of it being double anything on the menu) or was it totally my responsibility?


Yes, he is supposed to tell you but if he did not then it's better to ask than assume. Some dishes in general are pricier than others.


FOOD

What is the difference between Kosher & Glatt Kosher?


Quick answer: In order for an animal to be Glatt Kosher the lungs are checked to make sure there is no mum (blemish), holes or lumps.


Is prime rib the same everywhere?


1) It should be. Prime rib is from graded cattle.


2) No, it's not. Some cuts are better than others. Also cooking methods differ.


How do you age your beef, and for how long?


Minimum 14 days from when its shechted (slaughtered). In a humidity and temperature controlled area between 35 and 38 degrees. Usually in the fridge or hanging in a cold place, for 2 weeks or more.


What is the difference between dry aged and wet aged?



The main difference: dry aging is meat aged in the open air in a certain temperature- you lose water weight which in turn creates a more meaty taste and a softer finished product. Wet aging is when the meat is tightly sealed (like a cyro-vac) and is usually done with marinades to tenderize the meat which will create a different flavor.


When a steak is dry-aged, it grows bacteria which deteriorates the muscle and makes it tender. However, I was under the assumption that because of these bacteria, we are not allowed to eat such meat. Am I wrong, or misunderstood?


Misunderstood. The correct aging and growth of these benign bacteria is what makes the meat so tender and tasty.


What is the difference between sushi and sashimi?


Sushi is raw fish, thinly sliced over a ball of rice and sashimi is thinly sliced fish without the rice. Maki are the cut rolls and are what most people call sushi.


What is shwarma made from?


1) Shwarma is usually made from lamb, chicken or a mix of them. I've been to places that use chicken and top the chicken with lamb fat in order to create the lamb flavor.


2) Lamb, beef chicken, fat, etc... I've seen it made from many different meats.


Are there any foods that are re-served to customers a day after they are made? Or is every single dish made fresh that day?


There's a lot prep work done a day in advance for example desserts, sauces , stocks, stuffed item, etc.. but all dishes are made to order (well at least in our places).


Are sweetbreads really cow brains?


No. They are from the Thymus Gland in the neck area.


Is Pcha really cow's calves?


Not exactly. It is the collagen that was released from the bones and their surroundings, through the cooking process, and then cooled to create the gelatin. It is often made with garlic and black pepper.


What is the halacha about eating fish and meat together?


I believe the Shulchan Aruch mentions that it is a Sakanah (danger) to eat them together. The danger was referring to a person choking on the bones of a fish.


"Do you know how many calories are in this dessert?"

No idea. If you count calories don't go out to eat.


What is all this about "FUSION"? Fusion is on more and more menus in New York. First it was fusion salad, then we saw fusion sides dishes, now it is fusion seafood and steaks etc. etc....does fusion really make a difference and what is it?


1) Fusion in food really began as a mix of Asian food with something else. For years, everything fusion was Asian fusion, and for the most part still is. The word itself is fairly simple and you can find the meaning in any dictionary. At this point it is overused. It refers to a mix of different cuisines, different ingredients, and different cooking styles. As opposed to calling a restaurant Italian, or Greek, this would be more like International food, but on a higher level.


2) You're not understanding fusion! It's not a salad or a dish it's a concept. Mixing different ideas together, like Pan Asian.


I like to try new things in restaurants being that restaurant-going for us is infrequent. However, I always stick to the same thing since I'm concerned that I won't like the new dish which is generally an expensive one. Either I would try to eat some of it or not, but ordering a new dish is out of the question, making my desire to go out again unlikely. Can this be worked out by asking to try a taste of the dish I'm considering or is there some other solution that can make me feel confident to try new dishes?


1) Be more daring. Order the dish. If you don't like it, don't order it again. Unless the restaurant has a tasting menu, where you can try many different dishes, don't even bother to ask.


2) No. Sorry you can't taste the dish. Go for it one day and spend the money. Worst case you won't order it again.


MISC.

What's a sous chef?


Usually one that works under the head chef, the second in command. Higher than a cook.


How much does it cost to open a restaurant?


1) Have you heard of a black hole?

2) A lot of money. $200-$350 a square foot. 

3) Probably $150,000 minimum; can go to the millions.


Is it unhealthy to eat raw foods?



As long as it's fresh. It is not advisable to eat raw fowl (turkey/chicken/duck).


Not if they're fresh and you trust the suppliers. Don't eat raw food when pregnant.


What percentage of your business are kosher clients vs. non-kosher clients?


80/20 more non kosher during lunch

70/30



What reason would you give to your success?


Hard work and community support.


Why am I not allowed in the kitchen as a customer?


Because of safety reasons, hot oil, hot plates.


Is mevushal wine bad?


No. It is flash heated, to become mevushal, and should not drastically affect the wine. Some believe it even prolongs the life of the wine.


What do you expect from a customer when he/she walks in?


1) Well here is the thing. When they come to us, they are hungry, so they are in a bad mood before they even sit down! So my advice would be to cool down and then you will appreciate your meal. We try to make them less stressed a little, by joking with them and make them feel that we will take care of everything.


2) I expect from the customer exactly what I expect from my staff- that they should greet each other with a smile and treat each other with respect, with neither party behaving as if they are doing the other a favor by being there. 


3) Hospitality is a two-way street. A customer is not always right...sometimes you need to fire the customer. Ninety five percent of customers are a joy...there are those, however, that need an education in manners. They think that they are normal and everyone else is crazy....Everything well done... No patience... They think a dinner for 6 people should take less than an hour.


What is the current state and future of kosher restaurants in the U.S.?


I think today's kosher restaurants do not have a choice. They have to cater to everybody, especially depending on their location. For example a restaurant on Pico Blvd. will mainly serve kosher patrons, as opposed to a restaurant on Rodeo Drive that sometimes serves more gentiles than Jews. The last holiday season I had about 70% tourists and more local gentiles shopping for the holidays than Jews. By serving those patrons I have to be at the same level as non kosher restaurants because my customers can go anywhere! So our level of service and food has to be as high as it can be. I think this is the future of kosher restaurants. The perfect example is Sushi West in Paris. It is the largest sushi chain in Paris and guess what, it is kosher!


ISRAEL:

What is the current state and future of kosher restaurants in Israel?


The rate of openings of new kosher restaurants in Israel has increased dramatically in the past couple of years. This is especially notable in areas that were previously considered bastions of non-kosher (secular) eateries, for example Hertzlita Pituach and Tel Aviv. The majority of these new restaurants are not fast food shawarma or steakiya type places, but offer high quality, sometimes gourmet menus. In other words- kosher dining in Israel is no longer perceived only for those who are shomer kashrut.


Has anything changed in the past five or ten years with customer service? Why?


I would say in general that customer service has improved, most likely due to two things; the increased competition between more restaurants, and the fact that Israelis travel so much out of the country and have learned that they must provide/demand good service.


How much is a fair tip?


If the service is good (as it should be), then minimum 15% seems appropriate, just as it is in the United States. We very often have situations where French tourists do not leave a tip at all. They tend to be very demanding customers, sometimes with a tendency towards rudeness, and then don't leave a tip. Even if it is not the custom in France to tip for service in a restaurant, they should be educated to respect the accepted customs of the country they are visiting, regarding both tips and respectful behavior towards the wait staff. Because they have developed such a reputation for being difficult and not tipping, wait staff are often not particularly happy to have them as customers.


Do you think a mashgiach deserves to get paid as much or as little as he does?


I think the whole system of mashgichim needs serious re-evaluation. The restaurant owner should be paying a set fee TO THE KASHRUT GOVERNING BODY, and not directly to the individual mashgiach. The system as it is now leaves open the potential for abuse, including mashgichim that can (and have) held the restaurant 'hostage' to their demands.  For example, a mashgiach that refused to take a pot that had been improperly used to the mikva unless he was paid an unreasonable amount of money, or a mashgiach whose personal kashrut requirements are more strict than the governing kashrut body whose certificate we carry, and will not provide the certificate unless we follow his demands.


Do you have any requests or comments to your customers on how to make their meal experience better?


I find it difficult to understand customers from overseas who walk in without a reservation and then get mad when you can't seat them right away. I can't tell you how many times a group of people walk into a restaurant they know is popular, without a reservation, and argue about the lack of immediate seating, claiming that the hotel concierge did not say they needed a reservation. I am absolutely sure that they would never think of doing this in the States.  Who goes out to an up-scale restaurant with 8 or 10 people, without making a reservation ahead of time. It is disrespectful to us to assume they can behave in a way that they wouldn't "at home." This just leads to an unpleasant experience for all. They end up having to wait, the restaurant staff is under pressure to re-arrange seating while they stand in the pathway of waiters, and the customers who are already eating end up having all these people standing around waiting for them to leave. If they had the courtesy to make a reservation, their table would be ready at the appropriate time and everyone would most likely have a better experience.


Well there you have it. Straight talk. I hope this sheds some light on the restaurant owner's perspective. If you have a question that you would want answered, feel free to email us at: info@GreatKosherRestaurants.com 

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