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Apr 7, 2008 04:49 PM

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.