Question: Can you please tell me what is an appropriate amount to tip in restaurants that have buffet service, such as those offering Champagne brunches or smorgasbords? Also, how much tip would you leave at those new places where the waitress takes your order, serves you drinks, desserts and coffee but you have to pick up the food yourself at the counter.
Answer: After talking with a few restaurateurs and restaurant critics about tipping in places that are partly self-serve, we came up with a tipping range between 10% and 15% before taxes. "It depends on where you are and how much attention you get," says Geni Charlesworth, a public relations representative handling a wide variety of restaurants. "A 15% tip covers real service in a fine restaurant nicely even if you have to get your own food. Average buffet places will be happy with 10% but no less than that. But let your conscience be your guide. If the waitress pours you more coffee, for instance, you may want to give more than 10%."
Personally, regarding the second type of restaurant you mentioned--where you pick up the food from the counter--I feel that a 10% tip would be fair. Again, though, it could be more if you happen to get a friendly waiter who gives you extra attention.
Q: Is Belgian endive naturally bitter? I've learned to like them but whenever I serve them to guests, I notice that some people leave them on their plates. Is there a way to cut down the bitterness of endive?
A: The slightly bitter taste of Belgian endive adds a punch to green salads. To reduce the bitterness of the vegetable, remove and discard the inner core at the base with the tip of a sharp knife. However, when cooking them whole, you may not want to do this in order to leave the heads intact. Adding a small amount of sugar to the boiling water may help cut down the bitter taste.
Q: I suffer from lactose intolerance and therefore cannot seem to take in any dairy product without getting an upset stomach. I heard that yogurt will not produce this effect. Is this true?
A: Yogurt has always been seen as a nourishing product with beneficial effects on the digestive system. It is cultured milk, soured by the use of helpful lactic acid bacteria. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that yogurt is more easily digested than milk by adults who suffer from lactose intolerance and who cannot readily digest milk. Be sure, however, to consult your doctor before trying yogurt if you suffer from lactose intolerance.
Q: In making yogurt at home, when you let the yogurt stand at room temperature, is there any danger in getting bacterial spoilage?
A: In his book "Kitchen Science" (Houghton Mifflin: $11.95), Howard Hillman offers a good explanation for the safety of making yogurt--which also applies to creme fraiche --as follows:
"Lactic acid inhibits the growth of certain bacteria that assault the highly perishable protein in milk. As the milk sours, its lactic acid content increases. Thus, the developing yogurt, for instance, can be safely kept in a 110-degree Fahrenheit environment for half a day or so. However, if left too long at that temperature, certain molds will feed on the lactic acid, thereby eliminating the yogurt's defense against spoilage-causing bacteria."
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.