Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater Philly where the site’s editor Ernest Owens answers questions from readers on all things Philly food related (hype around certain dishes, dining trends, restaurant etiquette matters, food influencer crazes, service labor problems and more). Have a question for him? Submit your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Ask Eater.”

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Dear Ask Eater,

When I go out, I like to show out. Pictures, poses, and a good time is my thing. Recently, I went to a popping steakhouse in Center City that is known for their grand staircase. My girls and I wanted to take a picture there after spending a stack for one of their birthday dinners. We were told by management that we weren’t allowed to do so, even though years ago that wasn’t the case. They claim it would be blocking the entryway for guests even though we were one of the last groups eating there before closing.

Am I overreacting when I say their new rule is B.S. and what do you think about restaurants with these types of uptight policies?


A Girl Who Just Wants to Take Her Cute Pic and Bounce

Dear A Girl Who Just Wants to Take Her Cute Pic and Bounce,

I get the frustration that you might have had that night. I, too, would like to take a simple pic somewhere nice after spending a pretty penny dining there. But at the end of the day, a restaurant isn’t necessarily your photo studio – and nobody is entitled to give you the space to pose for the camera. In this era of social media posting while dining, one can argue that restaurants should get with the times. But more formal restaurants, such as the “popping steakhouse in Center City” that you’re referencing, are trying to maintain a level of etiquette that can be appreciated when dining out nowadays has begun to feel less proper.


Dear Ask Eater,

I recently tried out as a cook for a popular new restaurant in the city that had me in the kitchen for full shifts during a test run over a weekend period. After I was done with my tryout, I asked the owner if I would be compensated for the hours I had put in. They told me no, on the grounds that I wasn’t hired.

Is this wrong? Did I just get played?


Concerned Cook

Dear Concerned Cook,

Quick reaction: Hell yes, you were played. And that’s messed up.

Labor is labor – regardless of whether or not it was an audition – and you deserve to be compensated for it. You worked two full shifts during an entire weekend, and clearly you weren’t let go after the first day – a sign that your services were of value. I’ve never heard of too many Philly restaurants having applicants do that much free labor for a job they weren’t going to get. What you experienced is most likely a form of staging, “stagiare,” or an unpaid training shift – which is illegal and considered wage theft.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and regional labor laws, a restaurant —regardless of size or acclaim — must pay at least the minimum wage (which is $7.25 under the FLSA in Pennsylvania) and overtime after 40 hours to their workers. What happened to you is definitely a red flag, and I recommend that you report them to the Better Business Bureau and/or alert the City’s Labor Department about what appears to be an exploitation of your labor.

If this restaurant in question is doing this to you, they might be doing this to others. Even if you aren’t ever paid for your cooking on those days, you can help the industry by speaking up to prevent this from happening to someone else.


Dear Ask Eater,

During a family dinner, I noticed that our bill had a service charge of 20 percent added to it. I had no problem with this given that the meal was good and we had a large party. What became an interesting dilemma at the table is that once we were charged, there was a space on the tab to add a tip. Some at the table debated whether it was proper to add more or if the service charge was enough. I didn’t add more because I felt 20 percent was sufficient enough.

Was I wrong for doing this?


A Philly Dude Not Trying to Look Cheap

Dear A Philly Dude Not Trying to Look Cheap,

For starters, don’t beat yourself up about it. Starting at 20 percent for tipping is a good place. I think the larger question here is the lack of communication from the restaurant regarding where and what the service charge is for. Perhaps if that was made clear to your dinner party the debate would have ceased. In recent years, it’s become a growing trend for restaurants to add service charges to bills to guarantee that their workers are paid.

While this is understandable for restaurants to do this, it can cause confusion for diners like you who aren’t sure if this replaces tipping. Most restaurants I’ve been in contact with would say that the service charge is in lieu of tipping — which is why you shouldn’t be hard on yourself in this situation. However, a best practice to implement moving forward is to ask your server or the restaurant’s management what exactly the service charge is going towards. This might help determine how much (you decide to additionally tip (or not) moving forward.


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