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What’s the Difference Between a Zester and a Microplane? [Video]

Ever wonder what the difference is between a zester and a microplane? Though the terms are often used interchangeable and they serve very similar functions, the tools themselves are quite different. Learn about them and their proper uses here!

Shop zesters and microplanes here!

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Who Uses Soap On Cast Iron?

Who Uses Soap On Cast Iron?

In the residential kitchen, we’re all quite aware of the 3 forbidden rules when it comes to cast iron:

  1. Never, ever use soap!
  2. Never, ever soak it in water!
  3. Never, ever let water rest on it after being cleaned!

Depending on who you talk to, and how big their love for cast iron is, there could definitely be some rules added to this list – never use metal utensils, throw out rusted pans (this one hurts my heart a little bit), always season new pans, etc.  However, whether it be a frying pan, oven to table ware, or griddles, almost all of these rules are different when it comes to using cast iron in a restaurant.

Restaurant Use of Cast Iron

If you scour the web for help with taking care of cast iron in a restaurant, resources are very limited, and almost all of the information you find is for home cooks.  However, all of these forbidden rules aren’t the same in the commercial kitchen, because there are health code regulations that don’t allow for a pan to be simply wiped clean and re-used.

If you’re one of those home cooks, prepare to be blown away by what we’re about to tell you.

Wiping a pan clean or using salt to scrub the left-over bits away is not the way to properly clean cast iron after being used in a restaurant.  In fact, as far as the health inspector is concerned, the same holds true for cast iron as with any other pan: it has to be ran through a 3-sink basin with detergent/rinse/sanitizer in order to be properly cleaned for re-use.  As in most commercial kitchens, the detergent that is required to be used is specifically for what’s being cleaned; e.g. pots and pans has their own detergent, just as flatware has a particular pre-rinse formula.  If you think about it, it makes sense to clean cast iron like this, to ensure the seasoning of the pan doesn’t turn rancid – risky and scary.

So, want to know how restaurants get away with not following all of those forbidden cast iron rules?  They use those pans so many more times than that same pan would ever be used in the residential kitchen and they’re stored in a very hot environment, which basically helps them season themselves.

Now, that’s not to say that in the commercial kitchen other rules aren’t followed to help maintain a nice seasoning, which includes doing the first initial seasoning and wiping the pan down with vegetable oil or lard before storing (which a lot of residential users do as well).

With that said, because there is health code obstacles in the way of using cast iron in the food service industry, many cooks have started using hi-carbon or black steel pans to get a close substitute without having to worry about violating health code.

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What’s the Deal with Infrared Burners?

What’s the Deal with Infrared Burners?

Infrared burners are found in a wide range of commercial restaurant equipment, including salamanders, char grillers, broilers and fryers. These types of burners are most commonly used to sear, brown, and caramelize food products. Any chef or serious cook knows that the best way to prepare a juicy, succulent steak is to sear the outside as quickly as possible to keep the juices and moisture locked inside.

Infrared burners are mostly recognized for their ability to bring on the Maillard reaction (the reaction of sugars with aminio acids during the cooking process that turns meat brown and gives it flavor and aroma, i.e. “the flavor reaction”). Some units are able to reach sustained temperatures of beyond 2,100⁰ F and can heat up to 600⁰ F in less than 4 minutes. That’s hot enough to melt some metals, and definitely hot enough to put a little brown on a pork roast.

But most probably already know that infrared burners can get extremely hot, extremely quick. So, what else do they do that separates them from other types of burners? That’s a burning question, indeed.

Infrared burners produce more radiant heat.

Cooking results with infrared technology differ from those produced by an open gas burner or an electric heating element, mainly because they produce more radiant heat – the same type of heat energy that the sun produces. Rather than transferring heat through the air (convective heat transfer) or across a solid conductive object (conductive heat transfer), heat energy is transferred through heat waves onto the food product. This type of heat transfer is ideal for preparing a perfectly cooked steak.

Ever wondered why some people may leave the door of an oven slightly cracked when using the broiler portion? Many, like me, assume that this is done as a reminder to not burn whatever is under the broiler. Contrary to this belief though, the main reason the oven door is kept ajar is to maximize radiant heat energy by minimizing convective heat energy transfer. With the door kept open, hot air is allowed to escape and therefore does not circulate throughout the oven cavity as it normally would if the oven door was closed. This allows for whatever is being cooked to receive more radiant heat rather than convective heat.

So, why is radiant heat better than convective heat?

Well, radiant heat is not always better to use than convective heat, but in the case for cooking meats, it’s definitely best to maximize radiant heat. This is because convective heat tends to move moisture off of foods, unless whatever is being cooked has already been seared or browned.

Consider how a hand dryer or blow dryer works: these devices continuously move hot air across the surface of an object to remove moisture and eventually leave the object dry. They are using convective heat to create dryness.

With that said, common sense would suggest that cooking a steak using mostly convective heat or the “blower dryer” method is likely not the best idea around, that is, unless you like your steak dry. To avoid customers “yelping” about how leathery and chewy your steaks are, use more radiant heat. Equipment with infrared burners creates more intense radiant heat and is therefore able to cook meats without zapping their moisture.

Keeps heat evenly distributed.

Hot spots can be a problem with some cooking equipment, especially char grillers. Hot and cold spots occur because heat is not evenly distributed. This causes some portions of food to cook quicker than others and burn. Infrared char grillers are able to completely eliminate hot spots with a design that projects heat waves evenly and uniformly across the entire cooking surface.

Infrared burners are able to achieve even heat distribution through their design. Even radiant heat transfer occurs as heat from an atmospheric burner is absorbed then re-emitted across a perforated glass, metal, or ceramic plate, known as an emitter panel, onto the food product. Because heat is being emitted from a panel and not directly from a flame, char grillers and other equipment using infrared burners will give operators more usable space, helping to increase production.

A typical gas char griller will create a cooking surface with some spots being 40⁰ to 50⁰ F different from other areas; however, char grillers that use infrared technology only allow for 10⁰ to 20⁰ F of varying temperature differences across the entire, usable cooking space.

Increased energy efficiency.

Although cooking equipment using infrared burners is generally more expensive, they do use less energy, while also increasing production rates. They’re able to shave cook times by up to 50% and do so by using less than a 1/3 of amount gas.

Deep fat fryers that use infrared burners have been proven to improve their heating efficiency by roughly 80%. Traditional gas burners lose heat energy by heating the air between the burner and the heating plates that heat the oil; however, in the models of fryers with infrared burners, the burners are either in direct contact with the heating plates or very close which helps to minimize heat loss that occurs by heating the air.

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Food Allergy Awareness in the Restaurant

Food Allergy Awareness in the Restaurant

In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 11-17, 2014, I thought I’d pull together some food allergy facts and how you can better prepare your restaurant for food allergen customers.

First, I think I’ll start with my own story on food allergies.  My youngest son has a severe allergy to tree nuts, pistachios and cashews specifically, but we stay away from all nuts because we’ve experienced the unfortunate of him going into anaphylactic shock.

We were at our favorite summer place to grab a quick snack and take a scroll down the Grand Lake beach. At this time, we knew that my son had an allergen to tree nuts, but he was fine with peanuts, so when my mother ordered herself an ice cream sundae with peanuts, she double checked with the counter attendant that there was indeed no tree nuts in those peanuts.  The girl confirmed, and we set off for our stroll down the beach.  At one point my little one wanted to taste Grandma’s ice cream, and she obliged.  Within seconds of him swallowing down a spoonful of that ice cream, his throat started to close.  We were miles away from the hospital, but had our Epipen Junior on us.  We gave him a full dose and began our way to the hospital.  Before the shot, he was gasping for air, and it was quite frightening.  He was terrified, we were scared, and I just kept holding him on the way to the hospital.  The good news is that he’s fine now, but he won’t touch a single nut ever again – not even peanuts.

The reason I tell you this story is so that you get an understanding of the importance of checking food labels so that you know where it comes from.  Odds are those peanuts had listed on the back that it was made in the same factory as tree nuts, and that’s why my little one had an allergic reaction.  In some cases, people may choose to sue for incidences like this, we didn’t, but it could happen, which is why it’s important to know what is in each and every ingredient that you serve to your patrons.

A Background on Food Allergies

You may have a basic understanding of what allergies are, but to define how and why the body reacts the way it does is quite intense.  If a food is consumed that the person is allergic to, their immune system kicks in to protect them.  Think of the food as a germ or virus trying to attack the immune system.  Now, for most of us, our immune system knows that it’s just a food, but for those with allergies, their immune system has an abnormal response to the food protein and goes into full attack mode.  Odd, right?  When the bad food protein enters the body, histamine and other chemicals are released to help defend the body.

There is no cure for food allergies, but for most mild allergies, children can grow out of them.  However, for the top 8 food allergens (that contribute to 90% of the total allergies across the nation), those typically stay with the child for life.  The only way to prevent an attack is to strictly avoid the food, which also means being aware of cross-contamination, breathing the food in the air (mainly with dust in the air with nut allergies), and sometimes even touching the food.

Food Allergies by the Numbers

Speaking of those top 8 food allergens, the list is: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  According to the NRA, nuts cause 4 out of 5 food allergy fatalities, and twice as many people are allergic to shellfish as nuts.

According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the organization that helps to promote food allergens in businesses such as institutions, restaurants, and the corporate world, and who puts on the annual Food Allergy Awareness week, 4% of the US population (or 12 million people: 1 in 25) have a food allergy.  Children are the largest group affected by allergies, with 1 in 13 kids being affected – that’s about 2 kids per classroom on average.

Food Allergies in the Food Service Industry

There are many organizations out there to help your food service business learn how to appropriately handle allergens and how to train your staff. It is your duty to know what ingredients are in each food item you serve, before there’s a bigger issue at hand.

A few resources to help with training, include:

There’s also this handy site to help people with food allergens find safe places to eat.  This is a great opportunity for you to list your restaurant if you think you’re a fit.  It’ll help drive business, get links back to your site, and you’ll be helping the allergen community learn more about your business.

In closing, I’d like to mention that most families that have an allergy sufferer joining them when dining out, do take precautions before picking just any restaurant or any dish.  They don’t want to go through the hell of feeling their throat close up and not knowing if they’ll recover.  Believe me, we take every step we can to ensure our little one stays out of harm’s way; in fact, using sites like I mentioned above to find an allergy free restaurant is what families would typically do; if not just call the restaurant ahead of time.  When your life revolves around having an attack because of something as tiny as a nut, you definitely do your research before taking a bite.  Here’s a great example of a dining out guide that most allergy sufferers follow before choosing a place to eat.

Let me know, how does your restaurant prep for food allergens?  Do you use the purple coded knives and cutting boards to help separate?

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Top 6 Items to Add to Your Spring Shopping List

Top 6 Items to Add to Your Spring Shopping List

Spring is in the air and a lot of us are thinking spring cleaning, but it doesn’t all have to be left to dusting and scrubbing this month.  Here are a few of our favorite spring items that remind us that there’s more to March than just cleaning.

1.    Food Scales

Food scales are used in the food service industry quite a bit by chains, but we’ve found many small business that still haven’t heard of the money saving benefits behind these items (we wrote about it here and here).  This is why we had to kick off our spring list with food scales – well that, and they have springs, get it?

2.    The Cooler Sno Cone Machine

Get a head start on summer with this lightweight, portable sno cone machine from Paragon.  Weighing in at a little under 11 pounds and measuring 16” wide x 24” high, don’t let its cuteness fool you – it’s capable of producing 500 pounds of shaved ice per hour!  Now you just need to decide on your favorite flavor of syrup!

3.    Springs

Springs for spring, of course!  With over 500 springs in stock, odds are we can keep you stocked up on springs for quite sometime.

4.    Flowering Onion Cutter

Ever wondered how the “Awesome Blossom” was made?  With this unique tool called the flowering onion cutter.  Simply place a colossal sized onion on the machine and slide the handle down – bam, a perfectly, awesomely cut blossom.

5.    Flower Vegetable Trays

Sure, veggie trays are great for game day serving, but cool veggies can be served poolside too.  That’s why we added this simple vegetable tray to the list – in flower design!

6.    Sno Cone Flower Holders

If you’re getting ready for sno cone season anyway, why not get these fun sno cone holders too?  They keep the syrup from dripping over the sides and the adults love them too – seriously, we used them at our last team member sno cone event and they were a hit!

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Why is Restaurant Concept Important?

Why is Restaurant Concept Important?

Finding a restaurant concept is often times under-appreciated, which is likely one reason why so many restaurants fail within the first couple of years.  In truth, the concept of a restaurant is just as important as finding the right chef and location.  It helps you discover more about the environment and economic status of the location, the target audience, the menu, the aesthetics, the marketing, the service type; essentially, it’s putting all of your ideas down on paper so you have a guide as you proceed forward.

Why do so many people not figure out concept before they start building?  Because it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Serious entrepreneurs looking to open a restaurant often confide into a restaurant designer to ensure the concept is concrete, before even moving into the design phase.  And when success is so reliant on concept, it’s unsettling to know that so many of you will read this, and continue to open your doors without thinking critically about concept.

Outside of the importance of finding your concept, let’s chat about what it is.

It’s Research.

If you don’t already know about the economic, environmental, and demographic status in the area, you should do your research first.  You’ll need to know what your target audience is willing to spend, when they’re going to spend, when you should be open, when weather is going to force you to close, etc.  Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • How many cars pass by the location in a day?
  • When is busy time for the area?  When is down time for the area?
  • What is the weather like?  Does it rain a lot?  Snow?  Will that affect your business?
  • How are you going to be seen by patrons?  How can you increase visibility?
  • Does the location you’re planning on using already have equipment, or are you going to have to invest in new equipment?
  • What other details do you need to research to ensure this is a good choice?

It’s About Competitors.

If you know that there are restaurants that are already successful around you, learn what they’re doing right.  Dine at their establishment, notice the staff, the aesthetics, the food, the smells, the sounds, everything – and take note.  Also, remember the restaurants that aren’t quite as successful, and find out why they aren’t winning – learn from their weaknesses.

It’s About Finding Your Service Type.

You may know what type of food you want to serve, but have you thought about what size the menu should be?  How about the prices you’ll have on the menu that will be in line with your target market?  Have you thought about what type of restaurant service you’ll be offering: fine dining, casual, fast food, delivery, catering, food truck, carry out, etc.?  Knowing these answers before beginning to make restaurant decisions can save you money in the long run.

It’s About Atmosphere.

What is atmosphere?  It’s how you want people to feel when they come into your restaurant.  The smells they encounter, the sights they see, the flavors they taste, the sounds they hear, and the feelings of what they touch.  It’s about how you prepare your food, how the staff treats the people, and the culture of the restaurant.   It’s the experience you want your patrons to have when they visit – and it’s important.

It’s About the Target Market.

You could create a list of ideas around your concept, but if you don’t know your target market, you’ll be missing a big part of bringing it all together.  You need to know who the ideal customer is that will be coming in your doors.  How old are they?  When do they eat out the most?  Do they have kids?  How much money are they likely to spend?  If you’re planning on opening a family-friendly restaurant in a downtown area that primarily caters to patrons that are grabbing a bite to eat during lunch or sipping cocktails during happy hour, you will likely not get as much business as you would if you would have opened up in the burbs.

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Are You Using the Right Zester?

Are You Using the Right Zester?For most bakers, zesting is an everyday occurrence (as well as, at most bars), but for others, it’s a simple zest here and there that’ll satisfy.  From the diehard zesting enthusiasts to the people trying it the first time, here are a few tips and products to help you learn more about the art.

Don’t believe it’s an art?  Did you know that lemons and limes that come from a normal grocery store typically have pesticides sprayed on the outside?  So, even if you scrub the fruit before zesting it, you’re still going to get those pesticides in your recipe.  Besides, when zest is added to the side of a beautiful cocktail, it does start to resemble art.

The Heart of Zesting

For lemons and limes, you’ll always want to find a fruit that feels heavy for its size – this means it’s perfectly ripe. And it’s best to pick your fruits and vegetables from a natural food market, to ensure nothing is sprayed on the outer layer.  Other fruits and vegetables that you could zest, include potatoes, oranges, grapefruit, and apples; actually, we’ve seen avocados zested too.

Whichever fruit or vegetable you’re starting with, make sure to scrub them clean and then wipe them dry.  When you get ready to zest, it is only the outermost layer that you want to take off.  The white part is called the pith, and will give the recipe a tart flavor.  Finally, if you zest more than your recipe calls for, it’s okay to freeze the remaining bits for a few months.

Safety Notice: If you’ve ever zested, you know that you should always keep Band-Aids nearby, but if you haven’t, well, zesting usually involves scrapped knuckles and fingers.

The Zesters

Microplane

Microplane zesters produce a fine, airy zest that is perfect for cake toppings, or to swirl into popsicles before freezing them.  Because the zest is so small, it’s easy to eat, and doesn’t take away from other ingredients, but make sure to avoid the pith.  You can also use them to finely shred parmesan cheese to top Caesar salad and pasta dishes.  These zesters are usually small enough for the waitstaff to carry them from table to table.

Manual Citrus Zesters

These little gadgets are handheld and are also easy to carry around.  They produce a thicker zest than the microplane zester, and the length of the zest can be from very short to long (it takes some time to get used to it to get these different lengths).  These types of zesters will usually take more time to get the end result, but they are very inexpensive.

Vegetable Peeler

For thicker strips, you can also use a vegetable peeler to shave off big pieces of garnish.  There’s the handheld type of peeler, and the table mountable ones that help do the job much quicker.  Again, you’ll have to watch how close you get to the pith.

Zip Zester

The Zip Zester is very similar to a table mounted vegetable peeler, but was made specifically for busy bars and bakeries looking for an easy zester.  This zester is capable of creating:

  • A thick peel for swirled garnish that can be added to the side of drinks.
  • Thin ribbons that can easily be shaped in bows and ribbons.
  • Fine zest or strands of zest.

To create the different types of zest mentioned, you’ll need the 4 different blade types (the main product only comes with the blade for thick peels and fine zest).

What makes the Zip Zester unique is that it helps save time (up to 10 times faster than other zesters), helps prevent knuckle scrapes, and totally avoids the white pith.  It is also capable of cutting potatoes for curly fries, fruit strands to infuse vodka, and other garnish types similar to the zesters mentioned above.

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A Very Brief History of Kitchen Utensils

A Very Brief History of Kitchen Utensils

We Homo sapiens have been using kitchen utensils for quite awhile now. How long? Since the dawn of the Stone Age, nearly three million years ago!

Then it was mortar and pestles. Now it’s mortar and pestles and rice cookers sporting the Android operating system.

What happened in between? Let’s turn back the clock …

With the start of the Bronze Age, around 3600 BCE, wealthier households in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions ditched their stone and wood implements in favor of utensils made of—you guessed it—bronze. (And also copper.) As the archaeological record tells us, the Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age, and more sophisticated forms of metallurgy produced more useful tools for food preparation.

But things really started to get interesting around the 8th Century BCE, with the start of Roman Empire. The Romans popularized a variety of kitchen utensils, including meat hooks, meat mincers, spatulas, colanders/strainers and ladles, frequently made of iron, as well as pots and kettles made of bronze and terracotta.

Side note: What ever happened to the meat hook?

The Middle Ages, despite having a reputation for darkness, was a pretty bright time in terms of kitchenalia. Slotted spoons became popular, as did frying pans, pepper mills, tongs, mallets and (one of my favorites) waffle irons. The medieval kitchen also had weighing scales, roasting forks, rolling pins and even cheese graters.

With the start of the early modern period you begin to see even more specialization with tools like apple corers, cork screws and later, with the proliferation of canned food, can-openers.

And at some point, we ditched the meat hook.

The 19th century, particularly in the United States, witnessed a dramatic expansion in the number of kitchen utensils available on the market, such as labor-savers like potato peelers, jelly molds and salad spinners.

Signs of dissatisfaction with copper utensils, which reacted with acidic foods, were emerging, and other metals gained popularity. By the turn of the 20th century, kitchen utensils were commonly made of (tinned or enameled) iron and steel, nickel, silver, tin, and aluminium.

As predicted by Mr. McGuire in The Graduate, the latter part of the 20th century witnessed the proliferation of petro-based utensils—plastics.

See also: The humble spatula’s linguistic origins – The Week

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Top Back Burner Posts of 2013

Top Back Burner Posts of 2013

We had a lot of changes here at Tundra during 2013, including a brand new website, new videos, and tons of fun content that ranged from crazy outbursts in the restaurant to products in action.  As we pulled together our list of top blog posts for 2013, we didn’t expect to see such a diverse mix of favorites, but nonetheless, you have proven that there’s nothing better than a good green chili recipe and getting your hands dirty with a little bit of DIY.

Without further ado, here are our top blog posts for 2013.

  • Amy’s Baking Company: What a Disaster

    If it wasn’t Amy’s tirades, it was Samy’s complete lack of recognition for anyone other than his wife.  Amy’s Backing Company showed us exactly what not to do when it comes to being on television and back-lashing in social media – we’re still not sure if we’ve regained our composure from this one.

  • Recipe Measurement Converter and Equivalents

    A late comer in the year (as it was posted in October), the Recipe Measurement Converter and Equivalents chart made quite an impact with shares, favorites, tweets, and views; no wonder, it’s an easy cheat sheet for any cook’s kitchen!

  • 6 Tips for Better Plating and Presentation

    When we came up with the idea for this post, we thought that the majority of you would have it down, and that only a handful of you would appreciate a quick list of plating and presentation tips.  But we were wrong – you loved the list!  We can’t blame you either, those food pictures are yummy!

  • 10 Things That Make Restaurant Websites Great

    It’s not just the big brands that are making sure they’re building an online presence, but with it becoming easier and easier for even Ma and Pa shops to jump on board, restaurants that aren’t updating their site are falling behind rather quickly.

  • Green Chili Recipe

    Green chili is a Colorado recipe favorite, and when fall starts getting closer, it’s hard to subdue the craving for a big ‘ole bowl of this chili.  Including how to roast your own chilies, this was our top recipe for the year.

  • From Trash to Treasure: How to Repurpose Old Restaurant Supplies

    We were happy to see that this blog post made the list, because it means that a lot of you are mindful of re-purposing things that could easily be tossed out.  We loved a lot of these ideas, but some of our favorites were those wire whisk lights – beautiful.

  • Kitchen Tricks: How to Cut and Save an Avocado

    It wasn’t so much the slicing and dicing of avocados that we thought would hit home, it was storing the avocado without it turning brown.  Chef Chris Tavano was surprised by the reaction he received on some of our videos this year, because what he saw as “simply chef tricks,” got a lot of us interested in watching more of his videos.

Alright, now it’s your turn to sound off.  What do you want to see in 2014 from the Back Burner?

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How Much Should Restaurant Workers Be Paid?

Pay for restaurant workers. It’s an issue that manages to unite us and divide us at the same time.

According to the National Restaurant Association, half of all American adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and a third got their first job in a restaurant.

Most of us, in other words, can sympathize with the plight of low-paid restaurant workers because we’ve been there ourselves at some point, or have a friend or relative who struggles to cover basic needs while working full-time in a food-service position.

Divisions emerge when we stop to consider what, if anything, to do about it. Should we raise the minimum wage? Should we abolish tipping altogether? Should we pressure owners to pay their employees a living wage? Or should we let “the market” sort itself out and avoid potentially messy policy intervention?

Traditionally, many restaurateurs at our country’s 980,000 food-service establishments argue that forcing proprietors to pay their workers more will simply result in either less hiring or worse: layoffs. Further, they say that paying workers more would result in higher prices for patrons, who might decide to stay home and cook.

The counter-argument, one that I agree with, is that modestly raising pay standards to keep pace with inflation and other cost of living metrics is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but will have the added benefit of stimulating more economic activity overall, because compensation isn’t’t a zero-sum game.

After all, folks who work in restaurants like to eat out as much as everyone else! If they’re paid a decent wage, they’ll have the means to patronize local restaurants once in a while.

What’s more, there’s the issue of fairness. Consider the situation in New York City, where nearly two-thirds of restaurant servers live at or below the poverty line. How is this situation OK? This strikes me as a classic example of a market failure ripe for correction.

In the meantime, whether you support change or the status quo, we as patrons can make sure our servers are tipped well, because tips aren’t simply bonuses paid on top of good wages. Without tips—heck, even with them—the far majority of restaurant workers wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

And if you’re not convinced that your tip makes a difference, check out this powerful video.

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