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Nov 25, 2007 04:55 PM

Tipping the owner?

A friend of mine owns a restaurant. Sometimes some of us will eat dinner in the bar area. Usually, but not always, the person handling those tables is my friend's wife / co-owner. Sometimes my friend will join us, and he'll often comp the meal for everybody when he does. (And sometimes even when he doesn't, although I get the sense that his generosity may occasionally be the subject of minor marital friction.)

When a regular server is handling our table, we always get good service and tip accordingly. Maybe even a little heavy, since our presence means that she has to deal with her boss(es) more than usual. When the co-owner is handling our orders, though, the level of service is somewhat, shall we say, relaxed. Forgotten drink orders, mistakes on the bill, long absences while she deals with a crisis in the kitchen, etc. But we're all friends, so no worries, right?

The question is, what to do about tipping in this situation? If the meal is comped, I'll tip the bartender, but leave it at that. Otherwise, it seems a little too much like somebody slipping me a $20 after dinner in my home. On the other hand, when I pay for the meal, the charge slip has a line for a tip. Then I throw on 20%, if for no other reason than to avoid seeming stingy after all the generosity we've been shown.

Is this the correct thing to do? We're in a weird kind of limbo between guest and customer, and she's in a similar no-man's-land between host and server. And I seem to recall having heard something a long time ago about tips being appropriate only for employees. But we're getting table service, so it seems cheap not to tip. Can my fellow Hounds help me figure out whether my current scheme is the best way to handle this situation?

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  1. I'd feel a bit weird tipping the owner. Tip the employees by all means. Get the owner a nice gift perhaps (nice bottle of wine or something you'd think he'd appreciate).

    1. I would tip the owner because in many establishments tips are pooled so if there was no tip from your party the average tip per table would be lessened and would hurt all the other members of the staff.

      1 Reply
      1. re: KTinNYC

        Thanks, KT! You've just given me what I need to rationalize what I've been doing all along. Unless somebody tells me NOT to tip, I'll just keep on tipping on the assumption that the money is going to take care of the entire staff rather than my individual server. Nobody can get offended about that, right?

        BTW, when I don't tip (that is, when a meal served by the owner is comped) I make sure to take care of the bartender. Servers usually set up and bus their own tables.

      2. you are in a weird situation, & Paul's suggestion is a good one. however: are there other employees indirectly helping your table, such as a bartender or busser? who set up the table prior to your arrival, the owner, or the wait staff? these folks would split tips under normal circumstances, but if you don't leave a monetary amt, we have to assume the owner will have to tip these employees out of her/his own pocket, or use the restaurant's petit cash.

        when owners are working with other staff to serve customers, they may add their tips to a pooled tip fund which is divided at the end of the shift between general wait staff. the owners can take a fraction (1/2, 1/4) of normal share or a pittance of the total before it's divided up. owners should not *have* to work for tips--and if she's forgetting your drink orders, she's certainly not!-- but especially at smaller places or newer places, or, erm-- *struggling places* i.e. *most* places-- a small amount of cash tips can be an important part of an owner's income. many restauranteurs don't pay themselves during the months of january/february, for example, because these are the slowest months in the restaurant year. there's a lot that could be happening with both your service and where the tip $ goes that you don't see (and you're not supposed to), & it's hard to give a hard-and-fast answer when the circumstances can have so many shades of gray.

        i think the best approach, since you are indeed friends, is to come out and ask what's appropriate: how should you tip, & should you leave a separate tip for the bt/busser/other service staff? your friends may really appreciate you being proactive about the situation.

        1 Reply
        1. re: soupkitten

          I agree w/soupkitten. If the owner is acting as a server, especially not just for you (say there are 3 servers on the floor and one of them is the owner) then you should definitely tip. This is part of their income, and will also affect other staff members who would be tipped out, whether it be a pooled house or not. If it's really not clear -- the owner isn't acting as a server that night except for your table, say, then by all means ask them how you should handle it.

        2. I would simply ask the "friend / owner" what would be appropriate.

          2 Replies
          1. re: RickMoore

            I agree with asking, especially since he is a friend.

            1. re: RickMoore

              Especially if you don't want to tip anymore.

              I mean c'mon, folks. What do you think the owner, who is comping entire meals, will say if asked "Do you want me to give you a tip?" The closest one would get to an affirmative will be "That's not necessary."

            2. I worked at a tiny bistro restaurant where the chef owner would wait on tables three nights a week because business wasn't steady enough to justify having a server on, and I know she depended upon that tip income. But I also know that some of the regulars felt awkward about tipping the owner. If you feel comfortable enough asking, then do so, however, I know that if I were the owner, and even if I needed that money, I would probably tell my friend, the patron, that it wasn't necessary.

              I'm sure you already do this, but thought I'd throw it out there anyway, if a regular server or waiter or bartender is waiting on you, tip on the total bill, including the approximate cost of the comped items, not on your actual bill. Even if a round of drinks or desserts (or whatever) are comped, that waitstaff still does as much work as if you're paying for all of it.