Even when travelling to a nearby city, some locations can feel like a whole different world. In Chicago, for example, which is a short drive for many living in cities throughout the Midwest, people do things differently than in other cities and towns. To blend in with the locals during your Chicago getaway, heed the following advice.
Hold the ketchup!
Food carts and street vendors are a vital part of the culinary landscape in Chicago. And perhaps nothing says Chicago cuisine like a Chicago-style hot dog. But when you’re visiting Chicago and taking in this cultural cornerstone, do not make the mistake of asking for ketchup on your hot dog. That’s right, no ketchup!
Not topping a hot dog with ketchup is a persistent and long-standing cultural tradition of Chicago. Some foodies believe this all got started because of the city’s love for sweet relish, which doesn’t pair well with ketchup. Others simply dismiss the popular red condiment as a sauce for children, hicks and outsiders. Harsh, I know. So just stick to the seven toppings for a traditional Chicago-style hot dog: mustard, sweet pickle relish, chopped onion, sliced tomato, dill pickle spear, sport peppers and celery salt.
Carry cash to show your gratitude
In the hospitality and service industry, some positions – including restaurant servers, doormen and transportation providers – depend on tips as part of their compensation. One Chicago hotel, Elysian, implemented a no-tipping policy when it opened in 2010; but aside from that rare exception, the culture of tipping is alive and well in Chicago.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Hotel: A concierge who obtains a reservation or tickets for you or performs other requested service should receive a minimum of $5. Here are other rules of thumb, according to Vivian Deuschl, spokeswoman for the Ritz-Carlton, in a Wall Street Journal article: “Tip porters $2 a bag, $1 to doormen who hail a cab, $20 to a concierge who is able to track down hard-to-get theater tickets or arrange a dinner reservation at a sought-after restaurant and $3 to $5 a night for longer stays for the oft-forgotten housekeeping staff.”
- Transportation: Tip a valet driver $2 or $3. But if you’re not driving (smart!) and instead taking advantage of your hotel’s free shuttle from the airport, be generous in light of saving all that coin you’d be paying for parking or a taxi. Tip your shuttle driver $5–8 whether the ride is free or paid.
- Restaurants: Servers typically are tipped 15-20 percent of the bill (prior to any discounts or reductions). Bartenders should receive about $1 per drink with extra compensation for specialty items that require brewing tea or coffee, blending or other extra activity. In a self-serve restaurant, leave about 10 percent of your bill for the person who delivers your food, cleans the table or provides other services.
Of course, tipping is not required; but withholding a tip can be perceived as incredibly insulting. If you think you’ve received poor service, ask to speak to a manager instead of “stiffing” the serviceperson.
- Use transit: Driving in Chicago is totally unnecessary. Between the El and taxi service, you can get anywhere you need to go – quickly and for much less money than the price of parking.
- Take the El: Chicago’s El train is easily accessible and very affordable, no matter what your travel budget may be. A one-way ticket is $2.25. Take the Orange Line or the Blue Line to get from the airport to downtown. Use the Brown Line for many of the most popular downtown attractions. Purchase fare cards at rail station vending machines. Just keep in mind that the under-7 set ride free with a fare-paying customer and up to seven full-fare riders can use one transit card.
- Nab a cab: Cabs are easy to find in densely populated areas of Chicago. To hail a taxi, stand on the curb facing oncoming traffic – not in the street – and raise your hand as the car approaches to get the driver’s attention. Available cabs will have the light on top of the car turned on.