So you’re all excited about the upcoming dinner at (fill in name here) Restaurant. Lots of booze, lots of food, good times with good friends and, at the end of the night, you all split the bill and head home with a merry heigh-ho. It might not be so merry for the restaurant, however, if you forget to factor in tax and tip, which happens more than you might think.

“People often just add up the individual items that they ordered, and forget to include the five per cent GST and ten per cent liquor tax,” says Sebastien le Goff, sommelier and head of operations for Cibo Trattoria at the Moda Hotel. The result? That stack of cash that’s left on the table doesn’t even cover the bill, let alone a tip for your server. Hence, the automatic gratuity that’s added to the bill for larger groups. You’re less likely to forget the tip when it’s already included.

But why is it so high, you ask? Well, when you consider the specialized knowledge that a server in a fine-dining establishment brings to your table (pun intended), that 17 or 18 per cent suddenly doesn’t seem like so much for someone who can explain not only the details of any dish on the menu, but also the best wines to match with it and the provenance of the ingredients.

Also, explains le Goff, “that tip isn’t just for the server. There is usually a tip-out, so some goes to the seating host, the busboy, the dishwasher, the sommelier—all the support staff that help the server do his job.”

So, in the spirit of doing right by your fellow man or woman, here are some do’s and don’ts on tipping over the holidays.

The verbal tip. If you’ve received excellent service from someone, don’t just leave them with superlatives and forget to leave an equally stimulating tip. The bulk of a server’s income comes from the tips they earn, not the minimum-wage salary, so not leaving a good tip after praising them all night is like a slap in the face. That’s not to say you shouldn’t compliment your server if they’re doing a great job, just make sure the buck doesn’t stop there.

Gift cards and coupons. If you are receiving a discount on the meal, calculate the tip on the pre-discount amount. Same with gift cards. Just because you received fifty per cent off or didn’t pay cash for the meal, doesn’t mean your server got to work less. Tip accordingly.

Not happy with something? Whether it’s an overdone steak or a drink that took too long to arrive, state your concerns promptly to your server, and give them the chance to make it right. If you don’t like how something tastes, that’s probably not the server’s fault, but he can help you find something more to your taste. If you’re not happy with the service you’re receiving, ask to speak with a manager. Always be courteous and respectful—remember the old adage about honey and vinegar?

The four-hour dinner. Your dinner started at seven and you’re all still there four hours later, drinking, carousing and having a good time. If the server hasn’t been trying to hurry you out the door, add a little extra to your tip. Restaurants usually rely on having a minimum of two full seatings each night, so if your party stays twice as long (and it’s not due to slow service), then say thank you for the extra time and plunk down a few extra dollars.

AWOL Alert. We’ve all experienced those times when something goes wrong at the last minute (babysitter cancels, car breaks down) and that dinner reservation must go the way of Indo-French fusion. So pick up the phone and call. The restaurant is not only holding a table for you, they are also turning away other people who would like to dine there that evening. Even if it’s five minutes before you’re supposed to arrive, call and let the restaurant know. Trust me, there will be no hard feelings. Rather, they will appreciate the fact that you called at all, because most people don’t.

Happy Dining!


Mission Hill’s New Releases

Mission Hill’s Reserve series has some great new releases in time for the holidays. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.99 BCLS) has rich, earthy, berry notes, great with roast lamb. The 2008 Riesling Icewine ($59.99 BCLS) has a sweet honey-and-citrus fragrance, with a delicate finish. Enjoy on its own or poured over vanilla ice cream.


Top Shelf


Operation—Cookies for Kids is in full force, and those Vista D’oro tins full of holiday treats from the best restos in town go on sale Dec. 10. Minimum donation $50, with 100 per cent of proceeds going toward B.C. Children’s Hospital. Call 604-514-3539 for details.

Dining Out

Coast Restaurant (1054 Alberni St) is now offering fresh West Coast oysters for one dollar each between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily. Or enjoy a dozen peel-and-eat shrimp for $12.

The Irish Heather (212 Carrall St) is offering two Christmas day options. A full Irish breakfast for $15 and a three-course dinner with a bottle of Granville Island Lions Winter Ale for $25. Vegetarian options available for both menus. Email for reservations.

Food in Brief

Chambar has hired Sebastien Lagors as their new GM and Robert Stelmachuk (Le Crocodile, Market by Jean-Georges) as the new sommelier.

CinCin has hired Sarah McCauley (Zuma, London and Blue Water Café) as its new Wine Director.