Category Archives: Restaurant News

Restaurant Iris Contest

We’re sure you know by now how obsessed we are with Restaurant Iris… If you haven’t made it in, here’a an easy way to win a free meal!

IRIS Springtime Scavenger Hunt
On the Hunt: We’re looking for Irises around town! Take a photo of an iris you see and post it on Facebook by May 7. We’ll vote for our favorite Iris until May 14 by clicking the “like” button under the photo you choose. The winner’s photo will be framed and hung as artwork in the restaurant and treated to brunch for two! Ready, set, GO!!/notes/restaurant-iris/iris-springtime-scavenger-hunt/393420175418

Shanghaied Irises from the Neighbor's Yard

Let us know if you enter, and we’ll vote for ya!


Thoughts on Memphis Tipping

Anyone catch this gem in the Flyer? At Hit or Ms. we’re BIG tippers… jar at Cafe Eclectic counter, done. Bad service and infuriating experience, still 15%. Typical dinner without any extraordinary snafus, 22% at least.

However, this article just pisses us off. Yes, Memphians need to tip and be conscious of the fact that servers are paid squat. But, do we really need to be lectured by the restaurant owners, particularly the ones that pay their servers $2.13/hr?

And though there are some fair statements from some of the chefs (we’re talking to you, Wally Joe), our biggest complaint about this article is that Memphis has a reputation for terrible service! Excluding several of the high-end restaurants like Iris, Bari, Erling’s, and yes Houston’s, we’re regularly annoyed while dining out… Tugs, Majestic, Do… Having lived and eaten in cities all over the country, sadly Memphis service just isn’t up to speed.

Case #1: Grace: Perhaps we’ll touch on this more at a later point, but Hit or Ms. had an awful experience at this “fine” dining restaurant. Going in on a Tuesday night with only three other tables occupied, our meal unnecessarily took 2.5 hours, the table seated after us received all their courses before we did (both tables had two diners) and the Chef was too busy hanging items in his kitchen to grace us with a “hello, thanks for dining in my brand new restaurant and spending a lot of money for a Tuesday night”. Yet, our dear server received a fantastic tip, despite this awfulness.

Case #2: Tugs on Mud Island: Without fail, every single time we eat at this restaurant, the order or check is messed up. Yet, we won’t penalize the poor server who can’t do addition… we just suck it up and tip.

Case #3: Carmela’s: In theory, this could be a charming lunch spot. It’s the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring it out to you. We popped in on a Saturday morning when it was fairly empty. Short story– the order took forever (it was just a panini), and it came out wrong. Admittedly, this may have been the kitchen’s fault, but no one was in the restaurant when the order was placed, so more aggravation resulted. Disclaimer: we’ve only been to this restaurant once, so we’d definitely be willing to give it another shot.

Bottom line, we will continue to tip because we realize how important it is for these waiters’ income. And, we will continue to support local restaurants because hey, the food usually rocks. However restaurant industry, listen up! Please don’t preach about tipping appropriately if your servers consistently provide bad service… train them better and hold them to these high standards. Then, when the service is top notch in MOST Memphis restaurants, Hit or Ms. will totally support a tipping manifesto.

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Sorry we’ve been MIA…

Hey, Big Spender

An insider’s guide to tipping.


One of my favorite things is the restaurant receipt that has the 15 percent, 18 percent, and 20 percent tip amounts printed on the bottom. It provides a quick and easy way to figure out exactly how much to tip. On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the gray area surrounding counter service and their leering tip jars. I always wonder how much I should tip, if at all. To get a handle on what’s appropriate, I talked to some restaurant insiders and frequent diners.

It’s no secret that people who have worked in the restaurant business are usually the best tippers. Margot McNeeley, the executive director of Project Green Fork, has waited tables and tended bar. “It’s not easy work,” she says. “I almost always tip 20 percent, if not more, unless the server is rude. If they’re in the weeds and super busy but nice about not being as attentive, I still tip well.”

Stephen Hassinger, the innkeeper at the Inn at Hunt Phelan, is also a chef with many years of restaurant experience. “Me, I tip everybody,” he says. This includes the dry cleaner ($10 every once in a while), the guy at the car wash who wipes the rims ($3 to $5), and the barista ($1 every time and $3 to $5 sometimes). “Basically anyone who performs any kind of service, I tip $1 to $20 depending on how much work it is and whether I plan on returning,” he says.

Hassinger believes that once you add some decent gratuity, that person will remember you and how you like your coffee or whether you like medium or light starch in your shirts … whatever. “As a rule, over-tip in the beginning, and you will receive good service from that point on,” he advises.

Ken Lumpkin, the chef/owner of Umai, wants people to understand that servers get paid very little and survive on tips. (The norm for servers’ wages is $2.13 per hour.) “I know that 15 percent is the standard, but it has not kept up with the increased cost of living,” Lumpkin says. “Tipping should start at 18 percent.”

He agrees that receiving poor service is cause for a smaller tip but suggests that diners take into consideration whether or not it was a server’s error or someone else’s. “Servers have to deal with backed-up kitchens, angry cooks, angry patrons, running out of supplies, co-workers’ attitudes, etc.,” he says, suggesting that if a patron is dissatisfied, it’s better to alert the manager to the problems instead of stiffing the wait staff.

Ben Vaughn is the chef/owner of Grace Restaurant, which offers fine dining. He says that 18 percent is the average tip. However, Wally Joe, the chef at the Brushmark, says that 20 percent should be the standard for fine dining. “Service is more refined, and extra attention is required and expected,” he says, noting that there may be small touches such as tableside serving of sauces and beverages. “A server should also have full knowledge of the menu and wine list,” he adds.

Joe is very outspoken when it comes to counter service and says that tip jars really annoy him. What am I suppose to tip them on? Handing me my order that they are paid to do? That requires no effort at all,” he says, equating it to a clerk handing him a pack of gum at a convenience store.

Helario “Harry” Reyna, who owns Elliott’s, a sandwich and burger joint downtown, says the standard tip for counter and pick-up orders is 10 percent. Elliott’s has never had a tip jar, but patrons may choose to leave a tip on the table. When Reyna was part-owner of Kwik Chek on Madison, they had a tip jar and split the tips. “That’s how I started a savings account for my daughter,” he says.

Elizabeth Blondis, part-owner of Central BBQ, recommends 5 to 10 percent for counter service and to-go orders. The tips are put into a pool for all employees and divided based on total hours. “That way, everyone — from the prep cook to the busser and everyone in between — shares in the rewards of doing a good job and working as a team,” she says. Blondis notes that no one at Central is paid less than minimum wage (most are paid more), but the additional tips can add up to an extra 50 cents to $1 per hour for employees.

Vaughn says that the staff at Au Fond, his market and cafe adjacent to Grace which offers counter service, is paid a higher rate than the wait staff at Grace. “It’s a nice thing to leave a buck or two to the guys and girls cleaning up and working their butts off, but it’s not expected,” he says.

Gary Bridgman, a former waiter who “carried trayloads of plates/drinks and tracked customer satisfaction throughout the meal,” says he has to be impressed before giving a counter tip higher than a quarter. “I’m more likely to slip a dollar under a dirty dish/tray if I’m not expected to bus my own table,” he says.

It’s important to consider whether your to-go order is being packed up by counter staff making minimum wage or by wait staff making $2.13 an hour. Former restaurant staffer Lauri Smith points out that to-go orders were included in her total amount of sales that she had to pay taxes on. In other words, the server has to pay tax on it whether you tip or not. If the restaurants do not report it accurately, the restaurant and the wait staff get audited by the IRS.

“The people putting together to-go orders [in restaurants] almost always get ripped off,” McNeeley says. “Think about this: They take time, sometimes away from their stations, to put the order together, check it, bag it, ring it up.” Tipping at least a few bucks on to-go orders should be required in her opinion. At the very least, it is always appreciated.

So what about alcohol? Joe does disagree with his servers when it comes to tipping on wine. “I’m probably not going to make any friends among servers for saying this, but there is a feeling that they deserve to be fully tipped 20 percent on expensive bottles of wine,” he says. Joe explains that whether the bottle of wine costs $200 or $30, the work is the same.

Ben Carter, author of the popular blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, says wine should be tipped 20 percent just like everything else. “The only time this becomes a real issue or argument is when you’re spending $500-plus on wine at a single dinner. And even then, there’s a big difference between 10 $50 bottles and one $500 bottle,” he says. The former is going to involve a lot of work and glasses and surely deserves 20 percent, in his opinion, and for the latter, he believes 10 percent might be appropriate without throwing off the overall balance of the bill.

At a bar, 20 percent is always safe, according to Wes Fowinkle, who has been bartending for over 10 years, most recently at the Cove. He prefers 20 percent to the generic “$1 per drink” rule. “If someone orders the most complicated, expensive drink on the menu that takes five minutes to prepare, keeping you from selling five quick beers, you made $1 instead of $5,” he explains. Fowinkle offers some advice for math-challenged and/or multi-drink imbibers who don’t have the luxury of a receipt with tip suggestions: “The easiest way to figure out 20 percent at the end of a night is to divide your tab by 10, then multiply by two.” (This trick works in restaurants too, any time of day.)

When it comes down to it, customers need to be aware of the nuances involved in the restaurant business and what constitutes good service. Hassinger sums it up: “Employees who work for tips appreciate someone who appreciates them.”

Tipping Cheat Sheet

Fine dining: 20 percent

Casual dining: 18-20 percent

Counter service: 0-10 percent

To-go orders in restaurants: 10 percent

Alcohol (including beer and wine): 20 percent

Really expensive bottles of wine ($500+): 10 percent

The Blue Fish Turns into The Reef

Bad news,  The Blue Fish closed in Cooper Young after five years. Good news, it’s already been replaced by another restaurant in less than a week, called The Reef.

Happy to hear that we’re not losing another local establishment entirely. However, a bit concerned with this:

“We’ve cut the (entree) prices about in half,” Meredith said. “We’re not going above $20 on the core menu.” Appetizers will range from $6 to $11. Prepared oyster dishes that were about $13 at The Blue Fish will be $8, and Meredith plans to offer an oyster bucket and pitcher of beer special.

Got to wonder, if you’re taking over an operation and cutting prices, what’s being compromised? Quality of service or quality of fish… hope it’s neither, but the fish aspect makes us nervous!

Although, the oyster bucket sounds heavenly, if it’s done correctly, since we are a bit obsessed with bivalves. Fingers are crossed for selections from the Gulf or Cape. Our motto, the bigger and brinier, the better!


Let us know when you eat there… we’ll get there soon!

The City Taste’s Good Deals this Week

Check out what Memphis restaurants are offering in dining and drink specials through January 25th.

CIRCA – Downtown                                                                                                                                                                                                       $25 -3 courses Tasting Menu
January 19 – 25, 2010
Includes Choice of First Course, Main Course and Dessert
No Substitutions, Tax, Gratuity not Included
No Discounts, including Holiday Gift Certificates, Accepted with This Menu

MESQUITE CHOPHOUSE – Downtown                                                                                                                                                                  $60 for 2 people
4 courses for 2 people, 60 bucks. You read that right! Crab cakes are on this menu! Mmmmm, crab cakes! And yes, it is every night of this week!!!!

ANDREW MICHAEL ITALIAN KITCHEN – East Memphis                                                                                                                                  Monday, January 25–ONLY
No Menu Mondays
4 courses $45 with a wine pairing for an additional $20.
Please inform them when making reservations of any food allergies. Reservations suggested 901-347-3569

We have buy 1 get 1 Margaritas all day Monday!!
Eat. Drink. Chill.

BLUEFIN – Downtown
Monday – Thursday 5-6:30
$3 Sushi Rolls (Chef’s choice)
2 for 1 Hot Sake

Come in tonight for Live Team Trivia AND Fat Tire Night,
Buy the Beer and Keep the Glass!

All Martinis are $5 everyday til 7pm

Good eats scheduled for downtown dining

More good news for downtown diners. According to last week’s Memphis Business Journal, downtown is set to have three new openings by Spring.

Bardog Tavern’s owner Aldo DeMartino will be opening a hand-tossed pizza restaurant, Aldo’s Pizza Pies, at 64 S. Main Street. The pizza shop will serve whole pies or pizza by the slice and will also serve deli sandwiches, pasta and salads. Aldo’s will be a non-smoking and kid friendly venue and will serve beer and wine.

Lenny’s expects to open a second location downtown by April. The sub shop will be located at 153 S. Main Street, which sits at the corner of Main Street and Peabody Place. The store will focus on catering for businesses and events downtown. The store owners are opening the new downtown store as a response to the requests that they have received for a sub shop closer to the south end of downtown.

Midtown favorite Cafe Eclectic has plans to open its second location in Harbortown (111 Harbor Town Square) in February. The restaurant will serve coffee, tea, dip ice cream and pastries and add to the menu as they go.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these openings and any others you may have heard!

Restaurants Embrace New Normal / via Memphis Daily News

Memphis Daily News reported yesterday that though Memphis restaurants are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, they are not rolling over so easily. They are simply learning to do more with less. Whether they are lowering prices or creating smaller portion menu items, local restauranteurs are being smart about their efforts in order to regain business that once was so abundant. Take a look at what some local chef/owners are doing to fill the seats and get you dining out again.

And, let us know how your habits have changed with the economy.

Restaurants Embrace New Normal

By FREDRIC KOEPPEL | Special to The Memphis News / January 4, 2010

LOOKING UP?: Jeff Dunham, chef and owner of The Grove Grill in the Laurelwood Shopping Center, is hopeful for business in 2010. — PHOTO BY BOB BAYNE

“For 2010, I’d like to see a 20 percent increase in revenue,” said Jeff Dunham, owner and chef at the popular Grove Grill in East Memphis.

For Dunham, that goal might be attainable, but for many others, a rough 2009 has carried into the New Year.

From September 2008 through September 2009, the restaurant industry in America suffered one of its most intense downturns since the late 1980s.

Yet as much as the economic recession brought major banks to their knees and hurt the country’s dining-out segment, this dismal period appears to be the culmination of a steady decline in the public’s interest in eating out at every price level and style of cuisine.

Where bread is buttered

Over the past five years, the percentage of lunches and dinners eaten away from home declined from 53 percent to 45 percent, according to a report released in December by The NPD Group, a marketing research company in Port Washington, N.Y. Traffic for such ubiquitous national chain restaurants as Chili’s fell for 21 consecutive quarters.

The Current Situation Index, part of the Restaurant Performance Index issued by the National Restaurant Association, has registered below 100 for two years, indicating a contraction in business activity. It stands right now at 96.

Will the situation improve in 2010?

“I think we can go into 2010 with optimism tempered by a sense of reality,” said Mike Miller, owner of Patrick’s Steak & Spirits on Park Avenue and president of the Memphis Restaurant Association. “Coming from the end of 2008, when the economic situation started to get bad, and into 2009, it was a tough year. But everything I’m hearing for the last four to six months sounds better in every price range, from burgers and family restaurants to fine dining. From a pure business standpoint, we have a little momentum.”

Karen Carrier’s optimism is tempered.

“January is going to be really bad,” said Carrier, owner of Do Sushi, the Beauty Shop Restaurant and Lounge, Mollie Fontaine Lounge and the catering company Another Roadside Attraction.

“By the beginning of 2009, things fell apart,” she said, “and 2010 may still be a little rough. I don’t think things will start to ease up until the summer,” an assessment that agrees with The NPD Group’s report, which estimates the restaurant industry “will remain weak, at least through the first half of 2010.”

“First, I think the days of $28 to $32 entrees in this town are over, except for very special occasions,” Carrier said. “Second, your waiters represent the restaurant, and they can’t be rude or pretentious or argumentative. You can’t act like a celebrity, either in the kitchen or the dining room. The customers pay us, not the other way around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make them happy.”

A strategy Dunham uses at Grove Grill is the “small plate” concept, in which a dish is more generous than an appetizer but smaller than a main course.

“We introduced this in September, and it’s done very well,” Dunham said. “The concept offers a great opportunity for customers to spend less and to eat less.”

The point, said Dunham – and this includes good-quality wines at lower prices – “is not to cut staff or reduce service at any level, but to make things as affordable as possible for the customer.”

He cited the difficulty independent restaurants have in competing with chains: “They have money to put into marketing that we just don’t have. We rely on word-of-mouth and reputation.”

Still, Dunham said, “barring the other shoe dropping, I don’t see why the circumstances won’t get better sometime next year.”

‘Open to change’

The latter months of 2009 saw several surprise local restaurant closings, primarily Jose Gutierrez’ Encore in Peabody Place, which folded in September and, just before Christmas, the closing of the long-running Jarrett’s, owned by Rick and Barbara Farmer.

Then, just last week, The Kitchen on West Brookhaven Circle closed after being open since April. It had replaced Caspian, a Persian restaurant that lasted a couple of years.

Angie Kirkpatrick, who talked to The Memphis News a week before closing The Kitchen, seemed optimistic at the time, but did express frustration.

“We’re affordable. The menu doesn’t break the bank,” she said. “But it hasn’t turned out as I expected; it’s much harder.”

After a hiatus of more than a decade before launching The Kitchen, Kirkpatrick worked as manager of The Half-Shell during the 1990s, owned Maxwell’s and In Limbo, in Cooper-Young, and Ithaca in the Holiday Inn Select at Union Avenue and Second Street.

“I’ve never been in a situation that was so unpredictable,” she said.

What seems to be predictable is the restaurant industry, which, despite how society idealizes its sybaritic qualities and prestige at some levels, is, after all, a consumer product business. It’s affected by not only economic factors, but cultural and social influences.

Nationally, the rate of personal savings is slowly rising – from 2.8 percent in August to 3.3 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis – meaning Americans are more reluctant to spend money during a recession that’s not over yet.

“Restaurants have to be accountable,” said Carrier. “They have to keep the doors open to change.”

Farewell Old Friend

Jarrett’s Restaurant announced this month that it will be closing its doors for good after serving this New Year’s Eve dinner. Jarrett’s is among many locally owned restaurants that have announced their departure from the Memphis dining scene in recent months including Ronnie Grisanti’s (which has merged into Elfo Grisanti’s in Germantown), Encore, The Kitchen and Cafe Toscana. Owner and Chef Rick Farmer has made Jarrett’s a Memphis icon, but after 15 years of excellent food and attentive service, this down economy was enough to take it down. Memphians have shown their true support and patronage since the closing announcement and Jarrett’s New Years Eve dinner is now sold out! Let’s not let this pattern continue. We challenge each of you to support your local restaurants and keep them in business. Don’t wait until it’s too late to book a table!