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Do you tip less if served by the owner?

I know, tipping thread! But bear with me...

On a radio program today I heard a caller ask about the propriety of a cafe owner sharing in tips on days when he works the counter along with employee baristas. The "expert" on air said that, here in NY, it was illegal for the owner to share in tips. This particular scenario aside, it got me thinking.

Sometimes a restaurant might be small and you know it's basically a one or two person show. Not formal table service, but maybe you place an order, grab a seat, and someone carries it over to your table. Perhaps that someone is quite clearly the owner or family of.

Do you feel that the standard tipping customs still apply? I don't mean legally (as in the cafe scenario).

On the one hand, the "server" is obviously not actually a waiter earning an artificially depressed wage. They own the place, and presumably their profit comes from your being a customer, not on tips.

On the other hand, perhaps you feel for the small business owner, and believe the extra 15-20% is justified on top of the food margins, even though it's all going to the same place.


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  1. Generally, if a place is small enough that it's owner run, the cost of the meal is not huge. A 15-20% tip doesn't make much of a difference to me, but may to the owner. I tip as I normally do. I don't think any owner has been offended by it in the past.

    1 Reply
    1. Typically, in any business, one does not tip the owner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pikawicca

        Pikawicca, I used to think so too, until I had an interesting conversation with my hairdresser/owner of the salon I frequent. This may not apply in restaurants, but I now understand that the owner of my salon pays a certain percentage of taxes based on her tips (which the IRS calculates for her, just as they do for servers), whether she gets one or not. I would certainly tip ANYONE who brought the food to my table, especially a chef who actually stood there and cooked it for me too!

      2. I don't care who serves the food if they are somewhat sanitary looking and efficient. I always tip about 20 percent unless the service is horrible.

        1. Jfood is indifferent on whether the server is the owner, a college kid, a 30 year professional, a trained dog or a robot science project from MIT (saw the movie 21 this past weekend), he gets good service he tips the server. Anyone who doesn't is just looking for a "gotcha."

          3 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              Sign me up for the jfood school of thought on this one.

              1. re: ccbweb

                Yeah. I have to agree. Good service is worth a good tip. 20 percent is standard unless service is rude or poor, regardless of ownership.

            2. How do you know if you're being served by the owner? A career server friend once told me that a couple who came to her restaurant quite regularly always tipped poorly, and years later it turned out they did so because they assumed she was the owner (she wasn't). I can't imagine giving a lesser tip because you're being served by the owner (unless the service is lesser, in which case it's reasonable).

              I guess it depends on why you tip. If you tip to augment a meagre salary then it might be OK not to tip the owner. If you tip because it's customary for good service then you should tip whomever serves you based on your standard amount.

              1. The big problem if you tip less to the owner comes along if the staff pools their tips. Once you tip the owner less you lower the percentage of over-all tips for the evening so that the whole staff suffers.

                1 Reply
                1. re: KTinNYC

                  See, I'd have said that the problem comes along when you tip less for good service.

                2. The archaic rule of not tipping owners emerged in the 50's and 60's and should have Rested In Peace by the 70's. If my "server" is wearing 3 hats (owner-chef-waiter), he/she is scrambling to stay afloat, and some antique rule of thumb is no excuse to whittle down my total tab. I'll tip as usual, and maybe it will help keep the doors open for my next visit and beyond.

                  1. I tip...it would feel wrong not to. I go to a tiny cafe almost once a week for lunch, and it's just one couple...he cooks (divinely) and she handles the tables. I still feel I'm tipping for service....and if I'm "wrong", I'd rather err on the side of giving.

                    1. I've never given any thought to the identity of my server. If they provide service, and it's good service, I tip. I would hope that were I served by the owner and he/she didn't want or need the tip, they'd pass it on to the staff.

                      1. Good topic.

                        Do you tip less if the server is wearing Armani and you saw him roll up in a new BMW?

                        I don't base my tips on whether or not I think the server needs it. I tip based on custom and service.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                          actually, a lot of servers believe that appearing as if you don't need the money will result in lower tips. Specifically, I've seen and heard of many servers not wearing engagment rings (especially larger ones) to work for that reason. (I'm not saying it's true, just that it's a common belief.)

                          1. re: nc213

                            I'm sure this is true. It could be expanded to any business really; we own rental properties and always use my husband's old beater truck when we go to work on them. No need in tenants thinking we don't need their rent money (though, truth to tell, all our tenants drive better cars than we do anyhow).

                        2. I never tip the owner of any small business. The Owner of any business sets the prices and earns most of the profits. If the Owner does receive a monetary tip, he/she should share it with his/her employees.

                          That being said, I would still tip the Owner of a small restaurant who served me, assuming the Owner would be sharing the tip with employees and not pocketing it.

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: scoopG

                            >>I never tip the owner of any small business.
                            >>I would still tip the Owner of a small restaurant who served me,

                            But why would you have occasion to tip the owner if the owner didn't serve you? I think we who tip are in agreement that whomever serves us should get tipped.

                            1. re: dolores

                              dolores, I'd tip the Owner of a small restaurant who served me if I knew he/she was sharing that tip with fellow employees - and not keeping the tip for themselves. I believe owners of small businesses should share any tips they get with their employees.

                              1. re: scoopG

                                >>I believe owners of small businesses should share any tips they get with their employees.

                                I agree, but again, how do you know if this is taking place or not? Do you ask the owners?

                                1. re: dolores

                                  Yes I would dolores, if it was new place I'd never been to before.

                            2. re: scoopG

                              I agree exactly. I don't tip a masseuse or a hairdresser who owns the business.

                              However, in a restaurant situation, I tip regardless. I assume there are others who will benefit from shared tippage.

                              One place in particular stands out in my mind, the owner has on occasions practically begged me not to tip him, but I do anyway and tell them "well just give it to your staff."

                              Upon examination, I believe it is clear I care more about my food than my hair.

                              1. re: danna

                                If you get the same service; in fact, the same very personal service and you'd normally tip for it....why would you not tip the person who rendered this service because they also own the business?

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  DH gets his hair cut from the owner. The owner actually refuses tips. The owner's also got somebody working for him who accepts tips. However that dresser charges $25 less than the owner.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    ccbweb - my reason for not tipping the Owner of any small business is that the Owner sets the prices and earns most, if not all, of the profits.

                                    If the Owner is sharing the tips he/she receives with employees - which I believe they should - then I will tip the Owner. Otherwise no.

                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      I think you are assuming the owner is profiting. Often times, owners of small businesses struggle more than their employees. Their employees always get paid, but the owner has to make a judgement call each payday, did the business make enough to provide self pay?
                                      I once worked for a man who said, "Do you know how hard I have to work to make one dollar?" I thought that he was a fool who didn't handle his money appropriately. Until I was foolish enough to open up a business, then his words rang in my ears almost every day. I couldn't wait to work for someone else. I was guaranteed a good, consistent paycheck and minimal responsibilities.
                                      So aks yourself this question before asking the owner to disperse a tip that he/she earned amongst their employees. The questions is, how much do you value the all aroung service that thier business provides you. If you want the opportunity to dine, have one's haircut, have your car parked, or your bags carried....tip. Allow the owner the power to decide to refuse it, disperse it, save it, or spend it.

                                      1. re: vinoepasta

                                        Amen to that! Look around the place. Being served by the owner of a small business is in no way a guarantee that it is profitable enough that tips would be refused or unnecessary. In fact, unless you see other staff, it likely means the opposite..... or at least that profit is so slim that the owner must work the business to stay afloat. I doubt that many owners would work 60-80 hours a week if they didn't have to.

                                        1. re: vinoepasta

                                          That's actually a very good point. A friend of mine who has owned her own business for 20+ years told me that in the beginning, she was working 80+ hours a week and bringing home less money than her employees. Luckily at that time she had a rent-stabilized apartment on the UES that was $400/month. She said she was so frustrated because she worked way more hours and carried so much burden than her employees who just showed up for work and got paid every two weeks. Luckily, she persevered and is doing relatively well now.

                                          But I'll bet that there are many restaurant owners who don't bring in as much money as some of the FOH or BOH.

                                      2. re: ccbweb

                                        I agree, ccweb. Since I don't ask the owner of a small restaurant about his tipping policy and won't, I'll continue to tip the owner.

                                        Just the thought of a person serving me all night and then me not tippind him/her at all is not my style.

                                      3. re: danna

                                        I tip the owner of the small salon where I get my hair cut. I tip his son too who works there now. Neither of them have *ever* complained, and are both quite appreciative. I know they work hard and don't see why they don't deserve a tip as much as anyone else.
                                        Needless to say, I'd feel the same about an owner at a restaurant.

                                    2. I think circumstance dictates whether or not I tip.
                                      I work in the food service industry and can list reasons to tip and not.
                                      1) I know servers who opened a small fine dining restaurant and worked the floor themselves, thus waited on tables , even though they were proprietors, I tipped the normal amount.
                                      2) Sometimes the owner covers for a missing server, or a server who is busy, I'll still tip if I know the server is being compensated by the owner.
                                      By law I think its illegal for a salaried employee to accept tips on a regular basis.
                                      Although it's never enforced, and I know an owner would never include that in his or her W2 .
                                      3) If the owner is saving money by not hiring enough servers and is pressed into duty by the flow of customers, and is just a fast food type of place I'm not really inclined to tip.

                                      All in all, I think you need to assess the situation before tipping, most of the time I will tip but not always.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: keithlb1

                                        3) If the owner is saving money by not hiring enough servers and is pressed into duty by the flow of customers, and is just a fast food type of place I'm not really inclined to tip.

                                        And how would you know this, exactly?

                                        1. re: dolores

                                          I was thinking more along the lines of a pizza/sub place where the owner might be covering for a waiter who missed a shift.
                                          Or a counter service place where u might order at the counter and then get served by the owner/manager.

                                        2. re: keithlb1

                                          re Keithlb1's #2 point re: salaried employees-- at many restaurants, the owners & their family members are *not* salaried employees-- they receive their owner's draw but are technically unpaid. examples of salaried employees would be managers. cooks, bus/dish, servers, etc. would be hourly employees. owner's draws can vary depending on the restaurant type/profitability. the draw can in some cases also be virtually nonexistent. it is not unusual for restaurant owners to end up earning much less than min wage, & there is no law against this.

                                          if the owner is specifically covering a server (tipped) shift, not just filling in, s/he should be clocked in as a server, a differently taxed position. if the establishment has computerized sales records and credit card tips, the owner pays taxes on tips just as the rest of the regularly tipped staff do. i don't know why you'd think restaurant owners wouldn't report income that's already recorded in the restaurant's computer system-- restaurant owners have enough problems keeping their doors open without dealing with a catastrophic audit over a relatively paltry sum of tips. i suppose it would be possible to try to cheat the system in an establishment that was cash-only and still used hand-written checks and non-computerized cash registers fwiw.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            All I know is a specific case where 2 waiters opened a fine dining place and became proprietors but still continued to work as waiters thus collecting tips and whatever profits and salary the restuarant brought in.
                                            Now maybe they opted not to have a salary until the bills where paid off.
                                            I can't say for sure. But I can't imagine a better way to start a business on a limited amount of capital, thus maximizing potential income and insuring that guests were well taken care of at the same time. I am sure they reported all their tipped income.

                                        3. I really don't understand those of you who wouldn't tip the owner. Aren't you tipping on a service? You're tipping someone for a job well done, not because they make less than everyone else, right?
                                          Here in LA, some servers make over 100k a year. So, if you go to one of these fine restaurants, should you tip less because you know they're raking in the dough? Owner or not, I don't think you should assume anyone's financial situation.
                                          I guess the question is, what is a tip to you? What deserves a tip? Why do you tip?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                            I just said the same thing above, Azizeh. I can't figure this one out at all.

                                            I'll do as I always do, and tip whomever I want whatever I want.

                                            1. re: dolores

                                              Gratuities are gratuities. I tip anyone who courteously takes my order and brings my food, The harder they try to please me, the bigger the tip. Anything less is just being a Scrooge.

                                          2. Often if the owner is waiting tables it is because they don't have any profit to pay themselves with, in most cases they need the tips as badly as their employees do. I have never seen an owner wait tables on a regular basis in a place that was making a pile of money.

                                            I would never think of not tipping them.

                                            1. I'm often a server in an establishment owned by my SO. I've noticed if someone knows what relation I have to the place, I don't get tipped.