Waiter Tip AND Captain Tip, Huh?

We had a celebratory luncheon at New York French restaurant La Grenouille among the old money crowd. One woman had a hat too big for the Kentucky Derby.

Excellent food, and for the neighborhood and setting, the lunchtime $60 prix fixe for choice from the full menu of appetizer, main (only two had surcharge) and dessert where they specialize in giant souffles is not unreasonable. Plus you get little cookies and flavor-packed truffles at the end.

My wife had not prepped me, I had not researched, so it was one of those embarrassing moments when you are handed your jacket when you walk in. Good thing I had a button down shirt.

Either another anachronism, or a new trend, the bill left me puzzled, with the following lines:

 

  • Waiter Tip
  • Captain Tip
  • Total

 

Waiter Tip and Captain TipWe encountered a series of old-timer staff who all retained thick homeland accents. They were notable for pushing the white asparagus special. We have been duped by that in Germany/Austria/Switzerland and will not again pay $20+ for asparagus drained of flavor.

A quick search online show lots of confusion and varied approaches. I hadn’t a clue so put 15% for waiter and 5% for captain.

When I wrote about the Australia add-on (or nickel-and-dime) culture, a number of retorts were about US tipping practices and its spread to more services.

This one seems egregious.

Readers, what’s a diner to do?

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  • There was this episode in Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry got in a pickle for refusing to leave a separate tip for a captain (whoever that is). You’re a wise man. 🙂

  • Juno

    It sounds sort of like the Head Waiter tip on a cruise.
    Granted it isn’t much per day for the Head Waiter but I never see the Head Waiter until the last night where he/she comes by and says hi.

  • Brad B

    I found this from a quick Google search
    “I’m far from an expert on captains, seafaring or culinary, but my understanding is that the captain is essentially a head waiter, responsible for supervising the work of the staff “under” him.

    As Chino mentions, the captain sometimes takes an order. In some cases, he might perform some of the more complicated table services, such as complex deboning or flaming.

    Captains are usually dressed differently from the waiters (typically, in a tuxedo). Amex credit card slips used to have a separate line for captains. In the 1950s, and captains were common in fancy restaurants, a typical tip was 10%, a big tip 15%. As I recollect, many diners would give the waiter 10% and the captain 5% if the service was good.

    As dude mentions, the custom now seems to be to skip the captain line, and let the staff work out the tip situation.”

    http://www.chowhound.com/post/captain-tip-290013

  • User Name

    Normal tip in the waiter line, followed by comment “please distribute this yourselves as you see fit”. Let them sort it out. Not your problem.

  • Theresa

    In the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, the Captain apparently chose the table where Larry sat. When he didn’t get a tip he asked Larry if he had been unhappy with his table. I hope you got a good table.

  • PedroNY

    Shun Lee Palace on E 55th has this practice as well. The head waiter (captain) does a lot of supervising, works tables, and I believe he is in charge of bringing out the duck. We usually tip 15% to waiter, 5% to the captain.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY